ORLANDO, FL – The kid who dreamed the dream is living the dream.
How cool is that? Well, it's really cool – cool for Yannick Ngakoue, who this week very deservedly is living a dream he dreamed as long as he can remember, and cool for his Jaguars teammates who know what all this means to the second-year defensive end.
Yes, the Pro Bowl – all of the sunshine and smiles; all of the handshakes and hugs – is cool for everyone involved, and that very much includes the five Jaguars players playing here.
But for Ngakoue?
Well, maybe for him it's just a little extra-special cool.
"It means a lot," Ngakoue said Thursday after the AFC practice at the Wide World of Sports Complex. "It's a blessing. I'm just taking it all in."
The reason this week matters to Ngakoue are many, and some are well-documented.
One – and maybe the most obvious – is the whole "chip-on-his-shoulder" thing, and most people following the Jaguars are well aware of this when it comes to Ngakoue.
The "chip" thing indeed runs deep for Ngakoue:
It started when he was selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and it continued when he never was quite acknowledged enough despite a Jaguars rookie record eight sacks, and it continued last offseason when he somehow was overlooked as a reason the Jaguars might be a defense with which to be reckoned, and it somehow continued this past season when despite double-digit sacks there always seemed to be more focus on defensive end Calais Campbell, or cornerback Jalen Ramsey or cornerback A.J. Bouye or …
When Ngakoue was overlooked in the initial selection for the Pro Bowl in December, the chip grew a bit – and considering his 13 sacks and league-high seven forced fumbles (postseason included) …
Well, it was hard to blame a guy for having a chip after all that.
"He's never satisfied," Bouye said. "He's always hungry."
Not that it will change much. Ngakoue was asked after Pro Bowl practice if being here will perhaps soften that motivating presence. His answer was as simple as it was expected.
"No," he said. "I wasn't a first ballot," he said. "I was an alternate, so there's still recognition. I've got to keep playing."
And when that day comes, when he is named among the first selectees – and even when he is a starter? What then?
"You always have to stay humble in this business," Ngakoue said. "If you relax, you fall off. You've got to keep an edge."
Bouye said that edge was a topic Wednesday when he, Ngakoue and linebacker Telvin Smith – the latter of whom, like Ngakoue, was named to the game as an alternate – were talking in Bouye's room.
"Him and Telvin were like, 'Yeah, we're here, man, but we didn't earn it the right way,''' Bouye said. "Those people starting in front us – we've got to be there. I just have a lot of respect for people like that. He works hard and he earns everything."
Make no mistake:
Whatever the timing and circumstance of his selection, Ngakoue earned his way to the Pro Bowl this week. Campbell since signing with the Jaguars last offseason has told Ngakoue often he has a chance to be the NFL's best pass rusher, and his production this season showed a player moving toward that lofty status. His sack stats are impressive, but his knack for big plays and sack fumbles is rare element that indeed could make him a regular Pro Bowl presence.
If so, perhaps few would appreciate that status more than Ngakoue – and it's possible few here this week appreciate being here as much. Not every NFL player grew up a huge NFL fan. Some watch it casually and others simply are good enough to play it well and never feel connected to its history.
Ngakoue is not one of those players. Not even close.
"It's crazy," he said. "I remember watching the Sean Taylor hit (a memorable hit by the late Washington Redskins safety on then-Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman 2006 Pro Bowl). I tell guys, 'There's a lot of history here, and a lot of people who paved the way for us playing this game.' I'm just enjoying every moment I have.
"I grew up watching this game, grew up seeing the greats. I was one of those kids always on the couch watching America's Game. I was one of those kids who wanted to win the Lombardi Trophy. I've seen the things people have to do to get to this place, to be here.
"Being around the best right now, being considered among the best … this moment is a blessing."
Yes, the kid who dreamed the dream is living the dream this week …
Even if the chip never goes away, that's pretty cool.