ORLANDO, Fla. – It's been a heck of a ride for Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey here at the Pro Bowl, and we're not talking about football.
We're talking Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
"I hated it,'' said Casey, shaking his head. "It makes my stomach dive. It is insane. I liked it a little bit, I guess, but that's not my thing."
We're talking Rock n' Roller Coaster, just around the corner at the same park.
"Oh man," Casey said. "That stretch (limo). Now that thing was fast."
Casey, making his second straight Pro Bowl appearance, tested his limits here this week. He rode Toy Story Mania, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and then slowed it down on the It's A Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom. Casey got his nerve up to go on Space Mountain, a fast-moving, quick-turning roller coaster in the dark, but it was shut down.
"This is the first time really doing a roller coaster,'' Casey said. "I am not a big roller coaster person, but I said, "Hey, I am at the Pro Bowl, I have my family here, so let's have a good time. I decided to ride almost every ride we possibly could."
Casey, of course, earned the trip by playing football, after turning in another standout season for the Titans. He'll play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night at Camping World Stadium.
Coming off a season when he racked up 51 tackles, five sacks and 29 quarterback pressures, Casey is thrilled to be back. He's had a big time with his family, including his wife, Ryann Gray, his mom, and both his sisters. Roughly a dozen are here from Casey's clan. Casey also invited his academic advisor from his high school in California to show his appreciation for what she did for him at a young age and beyond.
During the practice week, Casey has been surrounded by the NFL's best players, including four of his teammates with the Titans. He's had a lot of fun, and he was observed running routes and catching passes a few days. It's been that kind of week.
"I don't take it for granted at all,'' said Casey, who played in last year's all-star game, in Hawaii, after turning down invitations to go as an alternate the previous two years. "A lot of people deserve to be here, and to be pointed out as one of the best in the game, you definitely have to enjoy it and love it."
Casey gives credit to those around him for helping him get here, from his teammates to his coaches.
Back in Nashville, his bosses praised him for going above and beyond.
"Jurrell quietly goes about his business, and he's a great pro,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "He comes in, not a vocal guy per se, but the way he comes to work every day, just watch him practice. It is just like he plays."
"He is a tough guy to block,'' general manager Jon Robinson said. "He has good quickness, he has good hands, and he has good instincts. He has good pass rush skills. He plays hard, and you can tell football is important to him."
Casey worked hard, and used his athletic ability to get here. He said Monica Kim, his academic coach for the football program at Long Beach Poly High School, played a role in him advancing as a student, and challenging him off the field. It's why he invited Kim to join him during Pro Bowl week. While other players invited high school coaches as part of the NFL's 'Thank You, Coach' program, Casey invited Kim.
The two first met when Casey was a high school junior.
"I was real close with my football coaches, but that wasn't the area of my life where I needed the most help, it was more in school,'' Casey said. "And she really dedicated her time to help me, getting me ready for SATs, spending extra time with me studying, helping me with papers. She did so much to help me where I wouldn't be so stressed.
"She was the type of person who would read over a paper I had written and say, "You can't turn this in. How are you going to turn this in? You have to re-do this.' And she'd force you to do it until you got it right. Those are the kinds of people you need behind you. Some teachers maybe could want to pass you through the course, but you are not learning anything. Monica is the type of person who wants to make sure you learn it and you know what you are doing."
Titans players join other NFL stars in preparation for the 2017 AFC/NFC Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (Photos: Amber Harding, AP)
Kim said she was touched by Casey's gesture. She spent time with Casey after Saturday's practice, and at a banquet later in the day. The two have remained in touch since he graduated from high school, throughout Casey's playing days at Southern California to his NFL career with the Titans.
Kim said the entire Long Beach community has fond memories of Casey, in part because he's never really left. Casey returns home to conduct a football camp each year, and he visits the school.
"It is an honor," Kim said. "I am so proud of Jurrell for who he is and the person he has become. I guess you never know how much you mean to someone. For him to invite me, it warms my heart."
On Sunday, Casey will put on a uniform and play in another Pro Bowl.
He knows he won't be alone.
"It's great to be here, but you have to thank those who got you to where you are at,'' Casey said. "Because without those people, you wouldn't be who you are. So each individual in my life has been building my character since I was a young age.
"I'm glad I'm able to share all of this with some of the people who've helped me."
TitansOnline.com looks back at DT Jurrell Casey's 2016 Pro Bowl season. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)