Wearing a shirt with the word sacrifice, Cameron Wake turned his annual spring news conference into a sermon of sorts on Wednesday, with an underlying message that would benefit any professional athlete.
The gist of it: Since becoming a pro, Wake has sacrificed all sorts of pleasurable activities, from consuming alcohol to fried foods to sugary desserts. The upshot has been a career that has featured five Pro Bowls, one first-team All Pro selection (2012) and 92 sacks, which ranks 42nd on the NFL’s all-time list.
Wake, 36, gave up alcohol in 2005, the year he went undrafted out of Penn State. He has said he hasn’t eaten fried foods or desserts (beyond fruit) since the Dolphins signed him out of the CFL in 2009.
But Wake isn’t only living that life. He’s also preaching that life, while being careful not to judge teammates who lack the desire or self-discipline to make that sort of sacrifice.
“What is it worth to you?” Wake repeated. “Is one more sack worth five years of a clean diet? Some would say, ‘That’s crazy. I love cheeseburgers.’ Cheeseburgers, women, party all that stuff will be there. You will have only one Monday night football game. People come to me [and say] you’re crazy. But also some people say I will do whatever I can to make myself better.”
Wake says there are no cheat days.
“I said in 2005 I’m not going to have beer because 3rd and 10 and [the opponent is] hurting, I know I have a step ahead of him. Cheeseburgers will taste the same in 10 years as now. The sack won’t be there. I decided many years ago this is going to be my life if I want to be successful. Every week I take off is a week I’m stepping back or a sack I’m going to miss or a play I’m not going to get. It all comes down to whether it’s worth it.”
Wake frames it this way to rookies: “Listen, if you never drink a drink of alcohol throughout your entire career, you’ll have 15 more sacks the year you’re playing. Is that worth it for you? Some guys say yes, some guys say no. Never have fried food in 10 years, make X more money. Some guys say yes, some guys say no. To me, even if it’s one sack, one play, it’s worth it. Ten years from now when I’m not playing, I can have all the cheeseburgers, all the beaches, because I put the time in now to make sure I have all those things. It’s 24-7. This is my life and it won’t change until I’m not playing."
The upshot, he said, is “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.”
With Wake coming off an Achilles injury that sidelined him for the final nine games of the 2015 season, Dolphins executives got together in the spring of 2016 and decided that the team and Wake would be better served if he was used as pass rush specialist off the bench.
But after Miami started 1-4, the Dolphins reinserted Wake in the starting lineup and he had 7.5 sacks over the next six games.
He has been a starter since, and there’s no indication that will change this season.
But the Dolphins will continue to monitor Wake’s snaps. He averaged 38 defensive snaps per game last season, while collecting 10.5 sacks in 16 games.
Wake said he would be fine with coming off the bench if the Dolphins ever revisit that idea and likes that the Dolphins will rotate a deep group of ends (Wake, Robert Quinn, Andre Branch, Charles Harris, William Hayes).
“I feel I have NFL starter ability,” he said. “I don’t think that’s ever been a question. I don’t have this everybody look at me, I must be the starter. I want to do whatever it is going to help the entirety of the team. If it means me being a third down guy, let’s do it. If it means I have to start and play every down, I’ll do that too.”
The Dolphins ranked just 26th in sacks last season, which Wake deems unacceptable: “As a defense, we didn’t get to where we should have.”
But he loved the trade for Quinn, who has 62.5 career sacks and is expected to start at the other defensive end position.
“Tremendous player, great teammate,” Wake said. “I’m smiles all around for that acquisition.”
Wake has one season left on his contract ($8 million salary, $9.6 million cap hit) and the Dolphins remain interested in giving him an extension in the coming months if a deal can be struck.