The term “athletically gifted big man” is usually reserved for the NBA, but it fits rather nicely with today’s NFL, where there is typically no bigger man on the field than an offensive tackle. In the 1960s, the average lineman weighed in at 250 pounds; in 2015, he’s 6-foot-5, 315 pounds. Or larger. With the ability to run a 40-yard dash in 5 seconds (give or take an earth-shaking step).
Now imagine one of those beasts barreling down a mountain at 50 miles per hour.
That could have been Ty Sambrailo’s future, had he not made the decision to quit competitive ski racing when he was 12 to focus on football. At the time, he was perhaps the best young skier in the West – but Sambrailo, a 6-foot-6, 311 behemoth out of Colorado State, doesn’t regret the decision; he’s projected to be a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
As he prepares for the next phase of his supersized career, Sambrailo spoke with Rolling Stone about giving up life on the slopes for afternoons in the trenches, and how, if pressed, he’s still willing to break out a backflip.
When did you start skiing?
I was one-and-a-half years old. My dad used to take me out and had, like, a harness on me and he would get behind me and make sure I wasn’t going too fast. I think I could ski before I could really walk. I kind of grew up skiing a lot with the family and just went up to Lake Tahoe a pretty decent amount. When I was eight I started ski racing and I did that until I was 12. I ended up racing for like five seasons.
And you were pretty dominant for your age, right?
I was in the “Far West,” an official, sponsored event in racing, and that was kind of the peak of me being a competitive skier. Once I stopped ski racing I just went and enjoyed it. Instead of making it competitive, it was just personal. I ended up winning the Far West overall award when I was 12, which meant that I had the most points at the end of the season out of California, Nevada and Oregon.
So when did you start playing football?
Growing up I played flag football, stuff like that, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that I played contact football. I started out as a quarterback and in my first game I got a concussion. We didn’t really have a very good offensive line, so I decided to move to offensive line to do some of the hitting instead of being hit.
And that was the beginning of the end for your skiing career?
The end of football season kind of runs into the beginning of ski season, and I was about four hours away from any snow. I had to decide if I wanted to play football and still have skiing be my sport, or kind of switch over. And I decided I wanted to be a football player. I was a little nervous giving up skiing, ’cause I probably had a future doing that. But at the same time, I was excited to play football because I really had a passion for it.
What sort of skills transfer over from skiing to playing tackle?
I think it’s learning to translate what I see to my feet. Everything starts with your eyes, so being able to process that quickly in my feet is something that I kind of unintentionally trained when I was ski racing. I don’t think ski racing directly helped me play offensive tackle, but it helped my overall athleticism develop at a younger age.
I’m sure you realize that an NFL contract will probably prohibit you from hitting the slopes, right?
The last time I skied was probably last winter. I think I got one day in last winter and then the winter before that, I probably went five-or-six times. My skiing days are over for a little bit. I enjoyed it growing up and had a lot of fun with it, but when it’s all said and done, there will be time to go skiing again.
Do you like offensive line more than playing quarterback or any other position in football?
I love it. It’s a different position that takes a different mentality. It’s one of the only positions on the field where it literally comes down to you and another person, a one-on-one battle, and it’s basically just a three-hour fistfight. There’s no other position on the field that’s like it: “Go out there and get your aggression out and try to beat up on somebody.”
Playing left tackle specifically is something you take a lot of pride in, isn’t it?
Yeah, I do. It’s one of those pride deals; you know you’re going up against the best. Any offensive lineman who plays at the next level knows what it’s all about, that you want to be compared to the best and you want to play against the best. So to be put in that position is something you look forward to. But on that same note, the NFL is full of crazy athletes and I don’t think there’s too much separation anymore between left tackle and right tackle in terms of who you’re seeing on Sunday. I think it’s made to be a bigger deal than it probably is. There’s pass rushers on both sides that can do their job.
What part of the pre-draft process has been the most challenging?
It’s just kind of the unknown. There are a lot of guys out there like myself, who are going through this process and soon, we’ll have no idea where we’re going to be living for the next four years. So it’s one of those things where you’re working towards this goal, but at the same time you don’t know exactly what it is. You don’t know where you’re gonna end up being and who you’re gonna be playing for. It’s exciting but it gets you a little anxious, and can be a little nerve-racking at times.
Going back to the whole skiing thing, can you seriously still do tricks and flips today, even at 300-plus pounds?
Yeah, I can. I never did anything too crazy, I always kept it pretty simple when I was playing in college ’cause I didn’t want to get hurt or anything. But I’m still pretty confident in what I can do.
You can still do backflips?
If you wanted me to, I could go out and do some.