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Roads to the Capitol: Six new members of Congress on their personal journeys

An athlete. A principal. A painter. These six new members of Congress come from all walks of life.

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Rep. Jon Runyan (N.J.-3)

Party: Republican

Age: 37

Previously: NFL offensive lineman

FYI: Has stood 6-foot-7 since he was 15. He was a high school all-state basketball player, two-time Michigan shot-put champion, and received a football scholarship to University of Michigan. He played 14 seasons in the NFL (Oilers, Titans, Eagles, Chargers) and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2002. He also played in two Super Bowls.

I got indoctrinated in football at the University of Michigan. They have a tradition there of offensive line play, a certain attitude, and it is, quite frankly, intimidating your opponent: getting inside their head and harassing them. Because if you have a guy rattled, he's more worried about fighting you than he is about doing his job. I always got tagged on those lists of the dirtiest players in the NFL, but those guys are the ones that have the ability to turn it on and turn it off. Because you can't do what you did on the field off the field; otherwise, you'd end up in jail. That's kind of your job description, but that's really not your personality.

My past career [in the NFL] was more physical, but there was a huge mental aspect to it, too. And I think that carries over. Going into the campaign, everybody gives you the scary stories, you know, how tough it is, how nasty it's going to be. I'm like, Okay, well, you see what I just got done doing for a living?

I [draw] from my past career of having a short memory. It's like, yeah, on the football field, I'm gonna give up a sack, but 40 seconds later's the next play. It's the same kind of deal around here. You might think somebody's with you on something, and they turn on you, but the next deal's an hour later. You've got to be able to move past that. Whether it's on the athletic field or here in Congress, you have to be able to flip that switch: to have that competitive mind but also have the personal relationships and the personality off the field that is more civil, shall we say.

Developing those relationships and being accessible to people is another trait that carries over well. I mean, a lot of people in professional sports, they're not accessible to people. People come up to talk to them, and they just shun them. It's the same thing here. You're representing that person; you can't just close the door and walk away from them. You're there to sit down and talk to them, and listen to what they have to say. Because when you do sit down and talk to people, everybody's pretty much just a person. Nobody's special. We're all in this together; we're all on this team. We all have what we're good at, what we specialize in, but without each other, we're not going to accomplish anything.

Quite frankly, all's I'd like people to say about me is: "He did the best he could do. He worked his tail off for us."

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