You never have to remind Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette who he is, where he came from or where he’s going.
He carries the all-encompassing answer around with him every day of his life.
“I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder,” the bushy-bearded 26-year-old said between minicamp workouts this week. “Being undrafted, that’s always going to follow me. My history motivates me more than anything.”
In four short NFL seasons, Galette, a native of Haiti, has gone from virtual obscurity upon joining the Saints in 2010 to becoming one of the NFL’s top young pass rushers.
Last season, after making the transition from a 4-3 defensive end to outside linebacker in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense, Galette finished sixth in the NFL with 12 sacks, behind Robert Mathis (19.5), Robert Quinn (19), Greg Hardy (15), Mario Williams (13) and teammate Cameron Jordan (12.5).
That’s pretty elite company considering Quinn, Williams and Jordan are first-round picks, with Williams being the No. 1 selection in 2006. Proving the draft is an inexact science, Mathis and Hardy went in the fifth and sixth rounds, and Galette came to the Saints as an undrafted rookie by way of Temple University and tiny Stillman College.
A 9.5-sack output in his lone season at Stillman earned him a look in New Orleans, but nothing else. Now he enters Year 2 of his three-year, $6.3 million contract, determined to help the Saints defense build on its No. 4 ranking in the NFL.
“Last year was last year,” he said. “It’s a new year. We’re not trying to stay the same. If we stay the same and do the same we did last year, then we didn’t make any progress.
“Nothing is going to come out of that. We got a lot of young guys here who are hungry and they want to be successful.”
Galette fit that description in 2010, even though he wasn’t a member of the team’s draft class that included cornerback Patrick Robinson, tackle Charles Brown and tight end Jimmy Graham.
But Galette slowly proved his worth, possessing an infectious smile, boyish enthusiasm and unwavering confidence, not to mention an innate ability off the edge to reach the quarterback. Since earning more playing time in 2011, his production has increased each of the past three seasons, topped by his 28 tackles and 12 sacks in 2013.
“Junior doesn’t know how good he can be,” Jordan said. “He’s had to fight for everything, and now he’s shining the light. I don’t know if he has a ceiling, but he hasn’t found it yet.”
“He’s amazing on the field,” defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley said. “You’ll never meet a harder worker or a more dedicated player. He fires everybody else up. Everybody hears the talk. But he walks the walk. He’s a great teammate. I’ll go to war with that guy.”
On a defense that boasts no starters from the Super Bowl team of 2009, Galette actually is viewed as a mentor for some of the younger players even though last season was his first in a starting role.
“I can’t get complacent,” he said. “I want to keep getting better. As long as I’m making progress, then I’m heading in the right direction. If I meet the goals that I set for myself and as a team that we have, that’s all that matters.”
In the eyes of coach Sean Payton, getting to the quarterback is the No. 1 goal for Galette.
“I would say it starts with his ability to rush the passer and come off the edge,” Payton said. “He has real good speed and flexibility, which most good pass rushers can do. They can vanish. The key is keeping the right pitch count on snaps. He’s steadily improved each season. He’s certainly one of the guys who played well for us a year ago and someone we’re counting on to play well this year”
Galette said he expects nothing less.
“I just want to be better than I was last year,” he said.
“That’s the goal.”