His locker is just one sign of how helter-skelter Bruce Gaston's life has been this month. It's placed in a corner inside the Green Bay Packers' locker room, tucked in the offensive lineman wing. Which wouldn't seem out of place, except Gaston plays on the defensive line.
There isn't time for semantics when a player joins a team in December, as Gaston did when the Packers signed him to the active roster Dec. 8.
It's quite all right with Gaston. He knows it comes with the territory. Just like learning a playbook in the heart of a playoff race instead of training camp, trying to adjust to new teammates in the season's final games instead of OTAs.
No, this rapid transition is not ideal. But Gaston, who replaced defensive lineman Luther Robinson (injured reserve) and was signed from Arizona's practice squad, is just happy to be here. In this week's Q&A with Press-Gazette Media, the Packers' newest defensive tackle chatted about the challenge he faces in joining a new team late in the season.
Training camp exists for a reason, obviously. That's the best time to learn. How tough is it to learn on the fly when you're inserted in the middle of a playoff race?
Gaston: It's a little tough, but it's in the job description, too. Obviously, you're right, that's what training camp is for and OTAs and all that. Sometimes, the rock just doesn't roll that way, and you've just got to learn some things on the fly. You're a professional athlete for a reason. They expect you to carry that professionalism really high on yourself. That part just comes with the territory. You've just got to study. It's almost like a class. Just got to take it like it's a classroom approach.
When you are dropped into a locker room late in the season, the heart of a playoff race when everyone has been going for three months strong, what does that feel like?
Gaston: First, you're glad to be here, be part of the hunt with the guys. You just want to prove yourself, prove that you belong here, to know that you're in this position. We're in a great position. So it feels good, to be honest with you, more than anything. It feels good that you're in the hunt for something bigger, something that a lot of people play 10, 12, 15 years and don't get a chance to accomplish. To know that you have that chance — that opportunity — it's great. It keeps you going.
What do you have to do to be successful with the challenge of learning on the fly and adjusting to a new team late in the season?
Gaston: Me personally, it literally is no different than when I was in school. I got pretty good grades, but I studied for everything. It didn't just come natural, like, boom, boom. Even with the plays, it's like, 'OK, look at it, study it, then get it.' It's not just, 'Oh, yeah, OK, I've got it.' I just study. With anything in life, if you study you'll be better at it. You'll be more knowledgeable. That's what I try to do. I look at my assignment, and I study. That's part of being a professional. Anything you are, whatever profession that you have, you have to study, you have to learn, you have to master your craft. I'm just trying to master my craft the best way I know how.
Any NFL job would be a blessing. To be with the Packers, given the history of this franchise, does that especially hit you?
Gaston: Yeah, it does. It's surreal. Every time we go out to practice, I just think about how truly blessed I am. Every time I see that "Gaston" on the back of my jersey, and the No. 99, to even be in this position. It hits me especially when I find myself complaining about myself to my parents or something, I'll just be like, 'Man, everybody doesn't get this opportunity in life.' I need to really take advantage of this and just realize how blessed I am, just be thankful for that. Because it has hit me, and it really is an overwhelming feeling.
When you got here, did you take a moment to soak everything in?
Gaston: I did. I literally walked around the locker room, looked at my locker, saw my name on everything, and I was like, 'Man, let's get to it.' It's crazy. When you mention Lambeau Field, everybody knows what you're talking about. No matter where in the world you are, if you mention, 'I'm with the Packers,' or, 'I'm at Lambeau Field,' everybody automatically knows. That's a great feeling. That's something to stick your chest out about, to be proud about.
When did you realize this kind of opportunity — to make an NFL active roster — was possible for you?
Gaston: You know, it never really hit me until really, really late in life. I did always dream big, and I was a very passionate person. I had my hand on a goal, but it didn't hit me like it did later in life. Early, you're just thinking it's so far away. The odds, the chances of that being you, is the same as getting struck by lightning twice in a row, or you being in the heart of a tornado. Those odds just don't happen to everybody, so it's like, 'Me? Really?' It's crazy.
You said it hit you late in life. What was it that showed you making an NFL roster was possible?
Gaston: I think it really was when I changed my mentality around, my mid-to-late sophomore or junior year in college. I really started realizing that, 'Wow, teams are really looking at me.' People are in the NFL saying, 'Hey, you can play for us.' That's kind of when it hit me. Seeing the coaches at practice wanting to talk to you, wanting to ask who that kid is, it hits you that this is a real possibility.
Did you know anybody inside the locker room when you came here?
Gaston: I knew (practice squad guard) Justin Renfrow and (linebacker) Nate Palmer.
How helpful is it socially when you're in a new town to have people here that you already know?
Gaston: It's been a big help just talking to Nate Palm, talking to Renfrow, getting a ride from Renfrow. It really did make the transition a lot smoother, to be completely honest with you.