GREEN BAY – Everything started at home for James Looney. His name comes from his father. He credits his fun-loving nature to his mom. The athleticism? Well, that sprouts from almost every branch of the family tree.
Although Looney is only weeks into his NFL career, it’s easy to see why virtually every major draftnik listed the University of California-Berkeley standout’s personality as a major strength in the lead-up to this year’s NFL Draft.
“My mom was always a big playful jokester,” said Looney at rookie orientation two weeks ago. “I’m just a playful dude and my brother is a jokester, too. I guess it just wore off on me.”
Now, the 6-foot-2, 287-pound defensive tackle wants to show he has the game to back up his larger-than-life personality.
Football always has been the family’s sport of choice. James Sr. played football at Louisville, while James’ older brother, Joe, is a former fourth-round pick who’s a seventh-year offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys.
He’s named after Joe Don Looney, a first-round pick by the New York Giants in 1964 who played five NFL seasons. Their little brother, Keni-H Lovely, is a freshman cornerback at Western Michigan.
Looney styles himself as a hybrid defensive tackle after playing everywhere from the three- to five-technique on the defensive front for Cal. He also has experience playing in both 4-3 and 3-4 base formations.
“Whatever the coaches want to put me at, I just feel like I want to benefit the team however I can,” Looney said. “I know I have a lot of learning to do. Working with my hands, my hips – I have a long time to go. But hopefully I can get there with hard work and coaching.”
After transferring from Wake Forest in 2014, Looney racked up 130 tackles (20½ for a loss) with eight sacks and two forced fumbles in 36 games over three seasons at Cal.
Looney was the Golden Bears’ lone invitee to the NFL Scouting Combine and he made the opportunity count, becoming the only defensive lineman to rank inside the top 10 in all six measured categories in Indianapolis.
His 4.37-second time in the short shuttle was good for second among defensive linemen, while his 35½-inch vertical jump was third behind Tulane defensive end Ade Aruna (6-5, 262) and N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb (6-4, 269), who was the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft.
Looney has had a great mentor in his older brother, who texted him during the first day of rookie orientation to wish him good luck. Two former Cal alums with Packers ties, Trevor Davis and Richard Rodgers, also reached out to the rookie defensive lineman shortly after he was drafted by Green Bay.
Packers DE James Looney celebrates his birthday on May 15. Photos by AP and Evan Siegle, packers.com
“They told me I would love it here, man,” Looney said. “They told me it’s a great staff, great coaches, great process – they teach you how to be a professional. I’m just so excited to be here. I’m blessed. I just thank God.
“Being a Cal Bear, we all take a lot of pride in that. We’ve got one of the greatest Cal Bears ever in Aaron Rodgers, so I’ve just got to learn from him and continue to work.”
Looney says he tries to limit his playful personality during business hours. He understands he has a job to do and saves all the carefree antics for his downtime with his family, friends and girlfriend.
This summer, Looney is competing for a job at one of the Packers’ deepest positions. However, he need look no further than Pro Bowler Mike Daniels for an example of an undersized defensive tackle who plays larger than his listed measureables.
“You dream about this as a kid, man,” Looney said. “Growing up, you dream about wearing a logo like the Green Bay Packers. Just to be here and have this shirt on and have these clothes on, I just can’t do nothing but smile. I’m just happy to be here.”