By Simon Evans
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley is a key component in the offensive line that will protect quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Sunday's Super Bowl but the two-time Pro Bowl selection initially hated the position so much he cried when switched.
It was in Staley's second year at Central Michigan University where he was told he was going to have to move to tackle by current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and it was not a suggestion that was well received.
"I was a sprinter and all of that stuff. I was really fast. I ran a 21 in the 200. Then I got fat," Staley said.
"I played tight end my freshman year in college. Brian Kelly came in and said ‘We do not use tight ends in our offense but we want to keep you on the field in some way. We are going to move you to tackle.'
"I cried my eyes out. I am not afraid to admit it. I almost transferred but then stayed, gained weight, busted my butt and got drafted."
Staley arrived at college weighing 220 pounds (99.7 kg) but left 70 pounds (31.7 kg) heavier but he remained quick and he also learned how to play his new role well enough to be a first round pick by the Niners in 2007.
The self-belief may always have been present but it has been coupled with the acknowledgement that he had to learn and work if he was going to make it in the pros.
"I am still working at my craft. I came in with the mentality that came from high school. I was third-string my junior year in high school.
"I had a heck of a high school football coach that really instilled that work ethic and would always work us," he said.
Staley's displays as part of an impressive offensive line, which he calls the "Big Uglies," have earned him the respect of opponents such as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"He's very good offensive tackle. I always thought he's really underrated, but he was a Pro Bowler this year so I think he finally gets his just due. He came down to Baltimore last year and I had a little bit of a hard time with him."
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has singled Staley out for his leadership skills and it is clear that he buys into the coach's well-known approach to the game.
"The whole entire group of the offensive line is just tirelessly working always on something whether it be film study, the weight room or on the field. It is never a finished product.
"And here we are in the Super Bowl and we are still trying to get, to quote Jim Harbaugh, ‘One mile faster'."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)