Moving the Chains with … Eastern Illinois super back Jay Vallie
today at 5:34 am
Growing up, Jay Vallie played backyard football and pretended to be Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
During high school, he was pretty sure his future was as a college basketball player.
Now, as a graduate transfer at Eastern Illinois, his football days are spent playing the unique super back position, a hybrid tight end who lines up all over the field.
Vallie, who spent four years at fellow FCS program Dayton, played there with current New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman and soon discovered a connection between EIU and the Saints when he arrived in Charleston.
In the fall, Vallie will experience some “bittersweet” emotions when the Panthers play a non-conference game at Dayton.
In our weekly Moving the Chains Q&A feature, he discusses the addition of a beard this fall, which is a no-no at Dayton, along with Cincinnati’s unique style of chili, the most beautiful places in his home state of Michigan and another NFL team he is connected to by his birthday.
Learn more about Vallie:
When you talk to friends and family, how do you explain the super back position?
I try to relate it to a tight end, because that’s the closest position that it’s like. Sometimes, we’ll be in line. Sometimes we’ll be in the wing, or we call it the ‘sniffer.’ We can be flexed out like a receiver. I know in past years, they’ve been lined up in the fullback or the tailback positions. It’s very versatile what they can do with us. They can put us anywhere and align us to perform based on what the job is.
Who is the most famous person from your hometown of Grand Blanc, Mich.?
I went to school in the town next to Grand Blanc, which is Goodrich. Football wise, Kyler Elsworth was a pretty good family friend of ours. He walked on at Michigan State University (as a linebacker). In the (2014) Rose Bowl when they played against Stanford, there was a fourth-down stop that won the game (for MSU). He was the one that jumped over the line and got that stop. That was pretty cool.
Current New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman was a teammate of yours at Dayton. Among NFL tight ends, who is your favorite?
Well, after Adam Trautman (laughs), I really love George Kittle (of San Francisco). He embodies what the tight end should be with his mindset, the way he attacks the run and pass games. He’s just always the enforcer. He’s dominant in whatever aspect he’s in.
Next fall, EIU plays a game at Dayton, your former school. Do you plan to be in the stands or in uniform for the Panthers?
I will be in uniform for that game. It will be exciting, and a little bittersweet. It will be fun running around with the guys I’ve been running around with for the past five years. When I talked to my coach (at Dayton about leaving as a grad transfer), he just didn’t want me to go anywhere in the old conference. I said, ‘Don’t worry. I don’t want to go anywhere that we play.’ Of course, after I got here, I found out we actually will be playing. Those guys are still my family. I talk to a good portion of them almost every day still. On the other hand, I’m excited to play them. It’s almost like the family Thanksgiving game. Just going out and having fun with your family.
Dayton’s neighbor, Cincinnati, is famous for its own unique type of chili dish, which is served over spaghetti. Would you give Cincinnati chili a thumbs up or thumbs down?
I’m going to have to give it a thumbs down. It was good, but it’s not as good as it’s always hyped up to be. I was satisfied, but not thrilled.
Growing up in Michigan, who was your favorite pro athlete and pro sports teams?
With the Lions, I loved Megatron – (wide receiver) Calvin Johnson. When we’d play football in the backyard, he’d be the guy we would try to emulate. As far as teams, I was born on the day of Super Bowl XXXII in 1998, when the Broncos won (31-24 against Green Bay). I have a little commemorative football for them with the score and everything. So I’ve always been kind of a Broncos fan. I like to see them do well.
Fans are now being allowed into pro sports stadiums again. The next time you go to a sporting event as a fan, what’s the one food you have to eat?
I love popcorn. Whether I’m going to a movie or going to a game, the one thing I’m always getting is a big bowl of popcorn. The smell of stadium popcorn always draws me in.
Being a native of Michigan, have you ever held up your hand like a mitten to show people where your hometown is?
Every time. (Laughs) That’s the only way for me to explain to people who aren’t familiar with the area where I’m located. It’s the easiest way.
Michigan has plenty of resort towns. What are three can’t-miss places in your home state?
Definitely Grand Haven, which is out west. Up north in Mackinac Island. And then, I spent some time last summer in Marquette, which is way up in the (Upper Peninsula) near Lake Superior. Those three areas are beautiful. The U.P. itself is like a totally different world. The nature is amazing.
Is catching a touchdown or making a big block a better feeling?
I would say a big block definitely feels better. It feels way more awesome putting a guy into the ground than catching a touchdown. There are so many guys on the team that can catch a touchdown, but if you block a guy and that leads to a touchdown, that feels just as good as scoring if not better.
Tell us about your family.
My mother, Lonnie Rae, is a retired educator. My dad, David, is a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. I have one brother (Mitchel), who works with my father at Merrill Lynch. He’s six years old than me. My sister-in-law, Stephanie, is currently halfway done with nursing school. She’s going to be a nurse anesthetist. My brother and sister-in-law have a black lab named Ace that they’ve trained to be a bird dog, a hunting dog. He’s very obedient. Whenever I come home, I get to wrestle with him a little bit.
You earned a mechanical engineering degree at Dayton, and you’re in the MBA program at EIU. What’s your dream job?
Once I hang up the cleats, I have been drawn to technical sales or consulting, or some type of technical management, which is why I’m going for the MBA. I have the technical thinking that engineers have, and with my dad being a financial advisor, I thought that technical management is a good in between to apply both those areas that I’ve had in my life.
One thing you’ve added at EIU that you never had at Dayton is a beard. Why?
At Dayton, there’s a no facial hair rule. During the football season, they like the clean-cut look. I always had to shave it for football season. This year, I asked my coach, ‘Hey, do I need to shave?’ He said, ‘No, why would you need to?’ I said, ‘Oh, just wondering.’ So I get to let it go.
Who’s a famous person from EIU that you weren’t aware of until you got to campus?
I actually didn’t know that (New Orleans Saints head coach) Sean Payton was here. I thought that was really cool. As soon as I found out, I actually Snapchatted a picture of his jersey that’s in Lantz Arena to my buddy Adam Trautman. I said, ‘Hey, look who it is.’ He thought it was really cool.
If you’re hungry after practice, do you head to a drive-thru or straight home to cook for yourself?
I have a pretty strict diet. Before practice, I usually have a bowl of oatmeal with some peanut butter and protein powder. After practice, I come home and cook myself an omelet, a bagel and have a bowl of cereal.
The Summer Olympics begin in a few months. Which Olympic sport would you like to compete in?
Basketball would definitely be my sport. Growing up, basketball was one of my biggest sports. For a while, until the end of high school, I thought I was going to be playing college basketball. Luckily, things worked out the way they are and I’m here now. I wouldn’t change anything.
If you could travel anywhere in the U.S. and anywhere overseas, where would you go?
Colorado is definitely one place I really want to go. I really want to see what it’s like. My parents have gone multiple times on vacation. They’d send me pictures, and it’s amazing. I’d definitely like to try snowboarding and skiing. I’d also like to go over to Italy. There are cities like Rome and Venice … with lots of history and monuments that are there to explain the stories of the world. Italy would be a really cool place to spend some time.
Who is a person in your life that inspires you?
I’d say my older brother. Growing up, he’d be out playing basketball or football with his friends. I’d run out and play with them. They would just kick my butt. They would run me into the ground every time. I took that as motivation. No matter how many times I’d play my brother (in basketball), he’d beat me 21-2. If he beat me 21-7, I’d say, ‘OK, I’m going to get him next time.’ I’d try again, and I kept doing that a lot. When I started getting older, I’d talk to him a lot about college sports and everything in life. He’s been very helpful and has given me a lot of insight.
There are three players from Michigan on the EIU roster. When you all get together, are you more likely to talk about the Lions, Tigers or Pistons?
Right now, the Lions. I’m thrilled with their new (head coach) hire, Dan Campbell. I think there’s a lot of good moves going on in Detroit right now.