<
>

Jets' Matt Forte mentors 'little brother' from the Bayou

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New Orleans is known for Bourbon Street, Cajun cuisine, Mardi Gras and jazz. The area also produces running backs. Recent and current stars include Marshall Faulk, Warrick Dunn, Leonard Fournette and Matt Forte, who grew up on the north bank of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, Louisiana.

Forte's Louisiana roots helped him form an instant connection with rookie running back Elijah McGuire, who hails from nearby Houma. They're separated by 85 miles and eight years, but the gap is closing now that they're New York Jets teammates. Forte, 31, near the end of his distinguished NFL career, has become a mentor to McGuire, who was barely out of elementary school when he started following Forte's career at Tulane.

"It's that little-brother thing," McGuire said, describing his relationship with Forte.

Forte didn't have an older player to lean on when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2008. He was tossed into the lineup as a rookie and taught himself how to survive -- and thrive -- in the league. With McGuire on the team, he's trying to become the guide he never had.

"It gives me a sense of satisfaction, but I don't do it for my own satisfaction," Forte said. "I do it because I would've wanted somebody to do it for me. I put myself in his shoes and I think, 'What would I have told myself when I was a rookie?' I do it for the next guys."

McGuire gained nearly 5,700 yards from scrimmage in his four-year career at Louisiana-Lafayette, but he's learning there's more to the running back position than just running to daylight. Forte is teaching him how to be a patient runner, how to read safeties, how to disengage from a linebacker while running a pass route and how to pick up a blitz.

In the first preseason game, McGuire made a key play that went unnoticed to untrained eyes. On Josh McCown's 53-yard pass to Robby Anderson, McGuire blew up a pass-rusher who appeared to have a clean path to the quarterback. When they got back to the sideline, Anderson and McCown were congratulated by teammates. Forte saw the block and went directly to McGuire.

"He hit a blitzer right in the mouth," Forte said. "If he doesn't make that block, the ball doesn't get off. It was good to see that."

Forte (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) and McGuire (5-10, 214) are built differently, but there are some similarities in their game. They can run and catch. In fact, Forte has caught more passes (517) than any running back in the league since 2008. No one is saying McGuire can be the next Forte in that respect, but he has impressed with his fluid receiving ability.

"He's one of those guys who will have a long-tenured career in the league no matter what team he's on because he can fit in, because he does those things that every-down backs can do," Forte said.

McGuire is hungry to succeed because he wasn't pampered at a big football factory and he was only a sixth-round draft pick. He's "a humble kid," Forte said. "I know he'll keep his head on his shoulders."

He fell into the ideal, no-pressure situation because he can learn from no-ego professionals such as Forte and Bilal Powell, who had a similar relationship with LaDainian Tomlinson in 2011.

"When you have guys around you with the same mindset, it's just all positive vibes," McGuire said. "Nothing can go wrong at all. One thing I can say about him: He'll never lead me in the wrong direction. He's always telling me what's right. He's the best."

When they first met in the spring, they talked about their Louisiana roots. Turns out that one of Forte's best friends from Tulane, an offensive lineman named Michael Parenton, is from Thibodaux, the town adjacent to Houma. Parenton had a cup of coffee with the Jets in 2009 and now works as a scout for the New Orleans Saints.

"When you're in the room with another Louisiana guy, it's always fun to talk about things that go on back home," McGuire said.

And what goes on in New Orleans?

"Festivals," he said, smiling.

There's one aspect of Forte's daily regimen that McGuire finds hard to embrace: his diet. Forte is a health-food nut who devours spinach-laden smoothies and hard-to-pronounce liquid vitamins from an eye dropper. It probably explains his longevity. As Forte said, "Your body will make you money."

Sorry, but McGuire isn't ready for that -- yet. For now, he's sticking with his favorites.

"Crawfish stew," he said, "and down-South cooking."