The Redskins outside linebacker is enjoying his first year in Washington since signing in the offseason. After a recent practice, he discusses growing up in Pahokee, Fla., hunting gators and defining success in 2018.
Is it true that players still call you 'Big Baby'? Is that a nickname they have for you?
I mean, not really. It was more Pete [Robertson] when he was here he called me that a lot. Most people call me 'Phee,' Pernell. That's about it though. They don't call me 'Big Baby' no more.
So you just got rid of that one when he left?
Yeah, yeah. He kind of had that name because I always was quiet, just like I guess a 'Big Baby', I don't know. I ain't never cried, I don't know. But, he was the one who called me, gave me that name. But since he's been gone, there's hasn't been anybody calling me that.
Have you always been kind of a quieter guy?
Well it depends on what we call quiet. I get my moments, but I'm a very talkative guy. It depends on who I'm talking to. I don't really talk to a lot of people unless I know you. But, I ain't really quiet like that. If I'm in the building I like to talk a lot of football or more like telling the young guys what they spit and things like that. So, I don't really think I'm a quiet guy though.
Even as a kid?
I was bad. I was a bad kid.
What would you do?
Go to school, be bad, ready to fight everybody. In a good way. Not beat them up, but just fight them. I wasn't no bully. Cause I grew up in projects, so when you grow up in projects you had to fight. So I had the mentality, since I'm going to school and had to fight, might as well go ahead and start. Or not start it, but be ready to fight.
In terms of living in Pahokee, Fla., what was your upbringing like?
I mean, growing up in Pahokee, it was rough. Because there's no restaurants, diner, there's nothing to do. It's nothing, there are no jobs. So, we grew up chasing rabbits, and hunting alligators and playing football and basketball. Our only way out, one of our ways out, was playing football. It ain't like we had big cities like Atlanta and stuff, it was kind of rough. You grew up and it was all projects, everybody grew up in projects. So if you stayed in this project, you really can't go to that project. It was rough.
You hunted alligators?
Yeah, still do right now today if I could.
How do you hunt alligators?
So where I'm from, it's like where all the sugar in the world, where they make it. It's like a million-dollar industry down there. We got all these cane fields, like a whole bunch of land of cane fields, stretch property 40-50 miles. Just nothing but cane fields. We just go out and hunt and you got canals and dish banks. That's where the gators lay at, by the canals and dish banks. So, we ain't got grocery stores down there. When we needed food, go kill a gator.
You used a gun or something?
Yeah shoot it in the head or beat it across the head. That don't really work unless it's a baby gator. But we'll shoot it in the head with a .22 rifle, pull it out of the water.
And that's fair game? It's not illegal, right?
I mean, I think it's illegal. But, [expletive], where I'm from we don't care. That's how we could eat, one of the ways we could eat. You got no income, we chase out rabbits.
So you just get your meal like that?
Yeah, and we make money like that. We sell the gator, too. On the street.
How old were you when you started doing that?
Gator hunting and rabbit hunting? 10, 11, we're young.
So you make a sign?
People know who has it. You want gator, you know who to go to if you want some gator. You want rabbit, you know who to go to get some rabbit. It's a small community. It's out there by Bell Glade.
When was the last time you went gator hunting?
Gator hunting and rabbit hunting are the same to me. Because you get the opportunity to catch a gator and the rabbit. So last time I went rabbit hunting, I'd have to say after my first year [in the NFL].
You don't have to do it anymore, which is nice I guess, right?
You know what's crazy? I'm going to give you something to look up. I seen somebody chasing a rabbit, jump in the dish bank. The gator ran right up. Gators eat humans. He jumped right in behind that rabbit.
And he knew the gator was there?
Yeah, cause we knew, growing up as kids, we know gators can't open their mouth underwater. So if a gator comes the first thing we do is go under. If we get in a fight with them, when you go under, you got to get them on their back and flip them over. Because that's how gators drown.
I've heard that.
Yeah alligators drown. They bite their food and then take it down and drown them. But if you go underwater, the gators can't open their mouth underwater.
Check out these photos from the first half of the Redskins' 2018 regular season.
Between here and Baltimore, how have you liked the Mid-Atlantic as opposed to Florida?
I love it, I love it. I love the people around this area, I think there's a lot of genuine people around here. I love the weather. You're going to see all four seasons.
Did you have to get used to the cold weather, since you played in Chicago too?
I didn't, cause it was cold in Mississippi. So went I went to Mississippi [State], it was cold as hell. People don't know this, it's cold as hell in Florida. It's just not freezing cold, it's windy cold.
Is that Florida cold, like 40 degrees?
It ain't going to say 40 degrees, but yeah it can hit 40 degrees with the wind. Florida sit, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and all that. Coming off the water. Yeah, man.
When you look back at your career, the Super Bowl with the Ravens sticks out I imagine. Is that something you still think about now?
I mean, yeah. But, it's funny to say because I was just talking to J-No. I was like, if I win one this year, I'm out. I'm done, I'm going to retire. Probably even if I get to the Super Bowl.
So you're still chasing that feeling of winning, hungry for it?
I just want to feel how it feesl to win again. Being in Chicago, obviously you get all the money, but you don't win and it's kind of devastating. It feels like I kind of lost the feeling of winning. And I don't think nothing could fulfill a great feeling besides God and winning, when you're into this football stuff. The last three years have been very draining to me and I just want to see how it feels again to win. Right now, we're off to a great start. So you know all the guys are walking around laughing, smiling. Once I can get that feeling again, I can hang it up, man. Money, I don't care about that no more. I just want to win, help these boys get to the best players they could be. Get them some knowledge that was taught to me from Ray [Lewis], Ed [Reed], Haloti [Ngata], [Terrell] Suggs, Cory Redding. I had some people who taught me a lot of knowledge, and it helped me out a lot.
What's your favorite city you've visited?
I've only been out once out of my eight years. And that was my last year in Baltimore, last preseason game of the season.
So you don't go anywhere when you travel?
Every time I travel, it's all business. I got taught that when I first came in with Ray. Ray Lewis and Ed. They always taught us, whenever we get on that plane, it's a business trip. I might go out to eat, but I might eat around the hotel. So, I really never enjoyed no cities.
How about the offseason, do you travel at all?
I'll be in Miami, Pahokee.
Is most of your family still down there?
Yeah, my whole family down there. I just started going out the country a little bit more. I'm like a lonely loner. I like to be by myself. I'm married now so me and my wife be chilling. I don't like to do nothing, man. I got a son, he's two years old, he'll be three. I'm just different, I don't really like to travel or nothing.
Did you get your parents a new place when you made it to the NFL?
"I just got my mom a house last year. I got my grandma a house this year."
But they're still in the same area?
My mom is staying in West Palm Beach. West Palm Beach, you know, that's a rich land though. My grandma is still in Pahokee, she don't want to go nowhere. That's my baby though. But her and my aunties and uncles, all them still down there in the hood, as we call it.
Were you the first to graduate college from your family?
Yeah. But see we don't call that success we just call that a blessing. Cause I got a cousin who actually went to college, graduated. He's probably like 20 years older than me. But he's more successful to me because he's a preacher right now. He's closer to God and stuff like that. Me, I'm just more successful financially. In other people's eyes, I'm a football player.
As someone who has taken more of a backup role this year, has it been a strange transition?
I've been this all my life. I was this in Baltimore, I was this in Chicago where people don't know. I didn't start my last two years in Chicago, I didn't start. I came off the bench. I've been this, I faced adversity. None of it can break me, you just got to get strong and an opportunity like this man I just use it to keep getting stronger. Stay in line. Try to put their mind on a bigger picture than themselves. Cause I think a lot of athletes get caught up on themselves as, 'I got to get this money, it's about me.' Of course it is, but at the same time you ain't going to get nothing if you're out here being selfish, not caring if we're winning or losing. It's just an opportunity to help mentor people like I got a mentor. And at the same time, chase my goal. What I want to do, win another Super Bowl.
Analytics are changing too. How do you measure your own success?
As a football player I measure my success every time I cut on that tape – am I being very dominant and I'm being disruptive. I was never a player that wanted stats, never cared about stats. I would love to have them now, but as long as I got wins, and every time I cut on my tape, it's almost in my mind to perfection, I'm good.
So even without stats, you can know that you made an impact here.
I'll tell somebody right now I'd rather be disruptive than nothing. I'd rather be disruptive than have 100 sacks. Because if you're being disruptive, that means they really got to tune into you. That means that's freeing up somebody else.
You have the fourth most pressures on the team.
I think it's like 5.5
I'm trying to get five more this week. [Laughs].
Ryan Kerrigan started off slowly but he now has 4.5 sacks in the last four games.
I just believe in just preparing. If you prepare yourself. I literally seen this with my own two eyes from [Elvis] Dumervil, my brother who helped raise me, too. He went into Week 6, Week 7 with zero or one sack. When we hit Week 13, Week 14 he had 11 sacks. He finished the season with 14. It was crazy. He told me he said, 'Phee let me show you something.' I never knew this, I had been around Ray two years, I had been around Haloti three years. He said, 'I'm going to show you something. Week 8 show you who the dogs are in this league, who runs this NFL. Watch how I turn up the second half of the season.' I was like, 'What do you mean turn up? These boys got five, six sacks, you only got one. You ain't catching them.' Week 8 to Week 12, Week 13, he had 10 sacks.
This interview was edited and condensed.