Rookie fourth-round pick Dane Belton, who will see an increase in playing time for the Giants with starting safety Xavier McKinney out, covers some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What is the biggest adversity you had to overcome?
A: The whole situation with our [Iowa] strength coach [Chris Doyle], like the racism, things that people were saying that he kind of did. He ended up stepping down. We were just coming off the COVID break, coming back for the summer after COVID just started. I played a lot my freshman year but it was like, “Do I want to be here and go through this or do I want a fresh start and go somewhere else?” It was kind of a blessing that I stayed, because they ended up appointing me to the Leadership Council, and I had a big say in kind of how we ran things from there, and how we changed it and made the culture better for the people.
Q: What specifically did you see or hear or encounter?
A: I was only there with him for a semester-and-a-half. It was a lot of remarks from years past, but what I saw, it was people being treated a little bit different …
Q: Different for white people versus black people?
A: Exactly. And then, I would say the leash that people had. So it was like, if you’re a white person on the team, you mess up, it was kind of like, “You’re young, you’ll learn.” But it’s like for the black people, we were like you mess up, it was almost like you were done. They kind of looked at you a certain way. It’s almost like in college, the strength coach almost runs the team ’cause they see you more than coaches see you. He had a lot of say in what happened. I know Coach [Kirk] Ferentz said, like older players went up and talked to him about it and brought it to his attention. That’s his friend, he kind of didn’t realize how serious it was. He apologized and said he shoulda took it seriously.
Q: You considered transferring?
A: It wasn’t like a big consideration, it was kind of quick, I just talked to my parents with the whole situation like, “Should I stay?” I was in a good situation as far as being on the right track to get to where I want to be, and I felt like I had an ability to change things. It’s one thing to take an easy road out, but it was kind of a quick decision like, “Nah I don’t want to leave, I want to be a part of this change.” I’m glad I stayed and made that change for sure.
Q: What is the most unfair or bothersome criticism over the years?
A: I would say the biggest thing is people thought I was slow. I remember getting recruited out of high school, it’d be on my film, I’m running past people and everyone’s like, “He must be playing like weak opponents” ’cause I’m just running past. And then like I get to college and it’s like the same thing. Just for me in college, I didn’t play in the deep part of the field a lot, I was more in the box playing man to man, playing more in the run fits and things like that, so I didn’t have the opportunity to show my open-end speed, and before the combine, they were like the one thing, “Is he slow, can he play deep safety?” Things like that. It’s been starting every since I was young, just being doubted on my speed for sure.
Q: Did it fuel your fire?
A: I wouldn’t say fueled my fire. I couldn’t wait to show it when it came to combine, and now I get to play in the deep part and I’m able to show my range more. It’s not something I think about like, “I gotta show ’em I’m fast.” It’s more like, “I’m gonna play my game and they’re gonna see the real strengths I have.”
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I feel like I’m a chill guy, just calm, laid-back, but when I get on the field, I want to hit people. … It’s a different aggression when you get on the field for sure.
Q: The biggest hit you ever delivered at Iowa?
A: I would say probably Purdue my sophomore year. I was playing Cover 2, third down, they were running some sort of crosses in my backpedal, quarterback scrambled a little, threw it, knocked the ball out, knocked the guy out of the game.
Q: What’s it like when you really deliver a crushing hit?
A: Oh, man, it feels great. People who don’t play the sport, they think it might hurt you too, but it’s a difference. When you deliver a hit, you really don’t feel like any pain, it feels like — it gives you extra energy where it’s like I really just knocked the dude out type thing.
Q: Do you consider yourself an intimidator?
A: I feel like once I start delivering some hits, it’d be something that can be intimidating for sure.
Q: Did you ever see fear in the opponent?
A: I would say that for sure, especially in college, and even back in high school. Once you hit ’em once, it’s like they kind of get afraid. Next time they see you, they want to make a move away from you or try not to contact you, try to be more finesse.
Q: What drives you?
A: The love of the game. When I’m passionate about something, I want to be perfect at it. For me it’s not a chore, it’s like something I get to do each day, so each day I come it’s like that drives me to just keep being the player I could be, like be one of the best ever. That’s a goal you want to attain, if you don’t want to attain as a football player, you’re not doing it right.
Q: Whatever comes to mind: Kayvon Thibodeaux?
A: Jokester. Funny guy. I will say he’s a playmaker, too.
Q: Evan Neal?
A: Quiet guy. Strong. Very strong. And just a cool dude to be around.
Q: Wan’Dale Robinson?
A: Played against him three times in college. Really athletic, funny guy, cool to hang around. Just a good dude overall.
Q: What do you remember about playing against him in college?
A: Really shifty. I feel like when I played him at Nebraska, they didn’t quite use him the right way. Really good off the line, making cuts as you guys can see now.
Q: Did you hit him at all?
A: My sophomore year I had a big hit against him on third down. One of the hits I thought I would knock someone out, but he got up for sure.
Q: Guard Joshua Ezeudu?
A: I’ve been hanging out with him recently. He’s really funny. Just a good dude to hang around for sure.
Q: Tight end Daniel Bellinger?
A: He’s a quiet dude, but he’s a cool dude for sure.
Q: Linebacker Micah McFadden?
A: Oh, that’s my guy. We’re both from Tampa. We weren’t really friends, but we knew of each other.
Q: Saquon Barkley?
A: Good dude. He’s funny, we always hear him making jokes in the locker room. When he gets on the field, definitely someone you love to have on your team for sure. He’s one of the most athletic people I’ve ever seen, and then when you factor in just the way he runs the ball, it’s just like you definitely don’t want to go against Saquon on defense. Just having him on your team, you kind of trust that no matter what’s going on in the game, he’s gonna make a play. He’s fast, but he’s big, he’s strong. It’s a mix of like you gotta be ready for everything. Usually you get like, quick backs, where you know like he’s gonna make a move, he’s not gonna run me over. But Saquon, it’s everything that you have to be prepared for. He’s good out of the backfield, catching routes. He’s such a versatile guy.
Q: Brian Daboll?
A: He cares a lot. He’s very competitive. I love that. You could see it on the sideline, just in small things in practice. He loves the competitive spirit, he preaches it all the time. That’s the biggest thing about the sport, so having a head coach that kind of embodies that is really big for me. The way he cares about you as a person and then a player, is great to have a coach like that.
Q: What is defensive coordinator Wink Martindale like in the meeting room?
A: He’s very calm, he knows what he’s doing. He makes jokes all the time. He’ll bring people up, have ’em do this and that. … We’ll play music in the beginning. It makes it feel like more of a family than just “I gotta go to a meeting.”
Q: Brings people up?
A: I remember Wednesday, he was just like, “Hey Dane, come up and explain this blitz, install this blitz for us.”
A: Rome (DB coach Jerome Henderson) plays the music in the meeting room before we start. When they play music, Wink will like ask people, “I got a hundred dollars if anyone knows the name of this song.” It’ll be like an old-school song and no one will get it.
Q: Dexter Lawrence?
A: Funny guy. A crazy player, like so athletically gifted. You love for him to be on your team, especially for us as DBs. He was the one who like kind of ran who sang when in training camp.
Q: What did you sing?
A: I sang “Candy Rain,” I sang “Can You Stay in the Rain?” by New Edition, and then I rapped a little freestyle. Everyone said I went 3-for-3.
Q: Julian Love will be calling defensive signals with McKinney suffering injury to his fingers.
A: [Love is] a smart guy, I think it’s gonna come easy to him.
Q: Adoree’ Jackson?
A: He’s funny. When he gets on the field, he makes tremendous plays that only stars make.
Q: Daniel Jones?
A: My first encounter after I got drafted, he had called me and I was driving. So I just see a random number and I was like, “I won’t pick it up.” And then he texted me, and he’s like, “Daniel Jones, just wanted to congratulate you.” Everyone says he’s sneaky athletic, he’s really mobile when it comes to it, been making good decisions this year.
Q: If you could intercept any quarterback in NFL history, who would it be?
A: That’s Tom Brady, easy. He’s the GOAT, so that’s something you can go back when you’re older, tell your kids like you picked off the greatest player of all time, that’s just something cool to say, for sure.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any safety still living in NFL history?
A: That’s a tough one. It’s really between three: Ed Reed. Everyone knows about him, his ball-hawking skills. … Troy Polamalu for sure, a lot of people compare me just ’cause I have long hair, he made plays happen, up at the line, anywhere. … And then last, probably Brian Dawkins, just the way he flew around, was physical, just took command of the defense.
Q: If you could go 1-on-1 against any running back or tight end in NFL history?
A: I would go running back, and I would say Barry Sanders, just ’cause he was so elusive that if you could get a good lick on him, you really had good techniques.
Q: You were a fan of late Washington safety Sean Taylor?
A: The aggression he had playing the game, he’d fly around, made so many plays. A big hitter, I love that.
Q: What is your favorite single Iowa memory?
A: Probably my sophomore year, COVID year, our last game, we played Wisconsin. Nobody on the team at the time had ever beat Wisconsin. And we just go out and we dominated ’em, especially on defense, held ’em to three points. It started snowing at the end, my first time being in a snow game. I made a snow angel at that end. That feeling in the locker room after was definitely my favorite memory.
Q: Tell me about your food allergies.
A: I’m allergic to dairy, eggs, shellfish, nuts, sesame seeds, coconut — and that’s just the food allergies, I got a lot of other allergies, too.
Q: Did it cause you a lot of aggravation or pain or whatever the word is?
A: Yeah, it did. You could kind of see, I got scars on my nose from just scratching over and over, it might be gone now. Growing up, it would be very prevalent.
Q: You had to learn to channel your aggression as a youth?
A: Acting up in class in school, that was the biggest thing with my parents, they hated hearing that from teachers.
Q: How old were you when you got your black belt?
A: I was probably like 9. Karate is a year-round thing, and I was on different travel teams, and then when I got my black belt, my brother and I, we wanted to play football, so we talked to my parents and made the switch.
Q: Describe your experience at Deion Sanders’ Under Armour camp.
A: It was cool being coached by him. I wear earrings, so he stopped the drills midway. It was like, “If you got earrings on, go give them to your parents. You don’t wear earrings on the field.”
Q: Why were you a Derek Jeter fan?
A: Just watching him and how he competes, and just his love for the game.
Q: How good were you on the drums?
A: I was pretty good (chuckle). I don’t want to toot my horn. I played drums for probably about 4 ¹/₂ years. I played in like school bands, I did solo lessons for a while. I really loved it, but just ended up stopping. For Christmas, my parents got me a small drum set when I was younger. Then I was like, “I want to take it serious,” so we ended up upgrading, getting like a real deal thing.
Q: You considered Rutgers?
A: Yeah, I did. They were my first Power 5 offer, I want to say my fourth offer overall.
Q: Your parents have been to virtually every game in college and with the Giants?
A: It means a lot for sure. All the things they’ve done for me growing up for me to be in this position, and now they get to see me show what their work kind of turned into.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Michael Jordan, John the Apostle, Martin Luther King [Jr.].
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Purple Rain.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Ice Cube.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Meagan Good.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Rod Wave.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Fried catfish made by my dad, and collard greens made by my mom.
Q: The first play of your first NFL game, Week 2 against the Panthers after you missed preseason and Week 1 with a collarbone injury, you recovered a fumble.
A: That was crazy, the coaches say they never seen that in all the years of coaching, first play ever. First play on kickoff recovering that fumble was like, “I’m finally back doing what I love.” It was a great feeling for sure.
Q: What do you know about the tradition of defense for the Giants?
A: I would say it’s mean, for sure. Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks. I was talking to my defensive coordinator [at Iowa, Phil Parker], he played with Carl Banks at Michigan State, so just talking how he was, how athletic and long and flying around to the ball.
Q: What have you learned about what it takes to succeed in the NFL?
A: You gotta treat this like it’s the only thing you got by the time you have it. The time you have to play the game is so short that if you really want to be successful, you gotta give your all. Taking care of your body’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned. And just studying, studying, studying, so when you get on the field it comes quick.
Q: What kind of an impact do you want to make as an NFL player?
A: I definitely want to lead the team to a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl, a few of ’em in my career, and just be a teammate that people can rely on for sure.
Q: Have you heard the expression Trap Game?
A: Yeah, I’ve heard Trap Game.
Q: What do you think about this week’s game?
A: We don’t like to talk about Trap Games. We feel like every game in the league is a big game. And we’re in the NFL, we’re playing against top-tier competition. We go into each game knowing that we gotta do what we gotta do to get a win.