In this 15 edition for the 2012 season we sat down with offensive lineman Tom Kaleita and discussed coming from a small town, his time in Europe and being the longest tenured player on the team.
Editor: You grew up in Kingsley, Michigan and now live in Tampa, so what was it like growing up in a small town now that you’ve been fortunate enough to experience both ends of the spectrum?
Tom Kaleita: Everything was definitely more relaxed. It seems like down here everyone always has a place to be. That said, being back home, it would seem like the most road rage anyone would have is if there was a cow in the road. It’s very different, but I still enjoy going up there because it gives me a chance to get away from everything.
ED: And the weather is a lot different too, so are you more of a snow jacket guy or a shorts and flip flops guy?
TK: I enjoy the cold weather occasionally, but it’s definitely nicer to know I don’t have to live there for three or four months in a row. Now, I’ll go home maybe for a week or two in the summer, and that’s fine with me.
ED: Being from Michigan and being able to sign with the Detroit Lions a few years back, how cool was it for you to continue playing football at the highest level and at the same time be able to do it not too far from home?
TK: It was pretty much a dream come true at the time. I remember sitting across the table at lunch and dinner from guys I grew up idolizing as a kid. It’s funny because these guys aren’t even there anymore, which is really showing my age, but I looked up to guys like Jason Hanson and Cory Schlesinger and I really couldn’t believe it. It was an awe-inspiring place to be.
ED: You were a tight end back then, but now play offensive line, so what is it about your game that allows you to do both so well, being that they’re very different positions?
TK: I haven’t been able to stay down at the weight I would like to because I’m always working and I don’t work out as a much, but I try to be as athletic as I can be, and that’s what it’s all about. It comes down to being an athlete, and for me it started back in high school when I played three different sports – football, basketball and baseball. Each one asks you to do a little bit something different, but it translates over to your later years when I’m being asked to wear three or four different hats. All of those things helped me be diverse on the football field.
ED: How challenging was it to manage three different sports and excel in each?
TK: I grew up in a small town and went to a small school, so you had to play three sports basically or else they wouldn’t have been able to field a team. It was tough because I had to balance my studies, but also because one sport would end and the other would start right up immediately. There was usually one or two days between the seasons, and it was always weird how that always ended up being the one or two days I would be sick. I always thought it was funny how that worked out.
ED: You also spent some time in NFL Europe, so just how different was getting used to the customs and culture over there?
TK: It’s very different over there, just the way everything works. I loved it, and I know a lot of guys didn’t, but for me it was so cool to see how other countries do things. It was over in Europe when I took the subway for the first time in my life, and the bus, and there were all these things I had never done before. It was also strange to walk down to the corner and see that some of the buildings were older than the United States. It was mindboggling to me all the history there.
ED: Is there one thing in particular that you really enjoyed about Europe?
TK: I have to be honest with you, so yes. I really enjoyed the beer. In some places in the United States you can get beer where they’ve made it the same way for years, but over in Germany, there were so many different varieties in terms of how they make it and what they put in it. The coolest thing about it was that they had what were essentially beer stores where you could get whatever you want. They had pallets of beer laid out and you could go pick out one of these, one of those, and you didn’t have to buy a 12-pack or anything like that of all one kind. You could try them all and it was always fun to sample a bunch and see what you liked.
ED: Was there on favorite you had while you were over there?
TK: Yeah, the one I really enjoyed the most was the Hefferveisen. That became like a staple for me. They had that stuff on tap wherever we went.
ED: Would you say that is one of the things you miss the most about Germany?
TK: Yeah it probably is one of them, but just for the sake of going back, I would love to do that and see it again. I would really love to go back and take my wife and son on a vacation there. There’s so much to see and a lot of them are really cool, so hopefully I can do that soon.
ED: And you’re also a big fan of the rock group Rammstein, who hails from Germany. Did you discover them while playing over in Europe?
TK: I don’t know for sure. It was a long time ago when I stumbled upon them, and it’s the type of music that really gets you pumped up. I’ve got some pretty hardcore music on my pre-game list, and that’s one band that has been on it for a long time. It really gets your blood pumping, but to be honest, at first I really didn’t know much about them, and then when I got more and more into them, I realized they are really crazy.
ED: They played at the Tampa Bay Times Forum recently. Did you get a chance to attend the show?
TK: Yeah you know I saw that they were here, but no, I didn’t go. I like their music and all, but to be honest with you, I was a little scared to go. Those guys are freaks (laughs). So I’ll just keep on listening through the headphones and keep my distance.
ED: Getting back to football for a moment, entering this season you had a nice little streak going where you didn’t allow a sack. Sometimes players can get very superstitious about stuff like that, so do you have any personal superstitions that fall into your pre-game ritual?
TK: Yeah I do, but I think every athlete does, and if they tell you something different, then they’re lying. Basically I do things in the same order when I get dressed. I used to be more of a stickler with it, but I’ve kind of gotten away from it. There are some things I still do the same, like tape my wrists and fingers the same way, and for example, if it’s a home game, I’ll drive over the bridge from St. Petersburg and go the same speed limit for as long as I can. If something changes, I don’t really get freaked out, but it’s become more of a habit now than anything.
ED: Lastly, you’re the longest tenured Storm player on the team, as this is your fifth consecutive season with the team, so what is the key to longevity, especially in a league where players bounce around as often as they do?
TK: I feel like I’ve done a good job establishing myself as part of the team, and I think everyone knows I’m pretty much not going anywhere. My family is here and I don’t want to leave them for any long periods of time. I’m comfortable here and I trust the coaches, and I think they trust me to do what I need to do. I’ve got a good job off the field that I enjoy and don’t plan on making any changes there any time soon, so this is where I’m at and I’m not going any place else. I’m lucky enough that I can continue to play for the Storm.