Five hours a day, seven days straight, practicing the Cha Cha.
That’s how Donald Driver had been preparing for his “Dancing with the Stars” debut until he finally got a day off on Tuesday. The rehearsals with dance partner Peta Murgatroyd will resume Wednesday in anticipation of the March 19 premiere of the 14th season of the hit ABC TV show.
The schedule is intense, becoming even more jam-packed for Driver when he gets in a football workout after the dancing for the day is done. But no matter how busy it gets, the Packers’ all-time leading receiver is still smiling, sounding like he’s having a blast.
“Peta is getting all five hours out of me,” Driver said in a phone interview with packers.com on Tuesday from Los Angeles. “She’s all about being perfect, and that’s not a bad thing. With me, she knows I can continue to go and go. I don’t get tired.”
Driver and Murgatroyd actually had their first rehearsal before arriving in L.A. last week. Murgatroyd came to Driver’s home in Dallas to meet him and introduce him to their first routine.
He sensed a determination in his partner right away, and he likes that. Murgatroyd, back for her second season on the show, was the first to get voted off last year, and she’s keenly focused on not letting that happen again.
“She’s been strict with me,” Driver said. “For me, it’s that posture part. Peta says, ‘Don’t look like a robot. Football players always look like robots.’”
Driver thinks he’s picking things up pretty well, and he probably knows more than he’s letting on. He’s been watching the show since its first season, when Driver, a boxing fan, tuned in to see former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield perform.
Since then Driver’s entire family has enjoyed the show, which Driver may have joined last year following the Packers’ Super Bowl triumph had he not gotten injured. That’s when he was first asked about it, but his ankle injury required surgery and he had to decline.
He’s thrilled to take ABC up on the invitation now, especially after seeing Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward last year become the second NFL player, along with all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith, to win the competition.
“Hines did well. He took what his partner gave him and he worked with it,” Driver said. “That’s what you have to have, a good partner, and Kym (Johnson) was great with him. Kym gave him everything he needed to win it, and I think that’s what Peta is giving me.”
Driver is putting in a little extra effort on his own, too. During his football workouts, he’s holding his arms up in the proper dancing positions with weights in his hands, which will help him keep his arms up the full 90 seconds of the routine once he hits the stage.
It’s admittedly not as tough as taking a big hit from a safety while catching a pass across the middle, which Driver has done countless times. There’s a different approach to this.
“In ballroom dancing, you can’t look as tough as you want to. You have to relax and dance,” he said. “People see me on the football field and they know that I’m tough when I play, but I’m always smiling and most tough guys don’t smile at all.
“I’m always smiling and telling the fans it’s OK to have fun. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m having fun.”
If there’s one piece of advice he keeps hearing, it’s posture, posture, posture. Fellow receiver Chad Ochocinco, a past participant on the show, also gave him another tip.
“He said, ‘Don’t talk back to the judges,’” Driver said. “That’s a good thing, because I don’t talk back anyway.”
He hopes to be voted back, of course, time and time again this season. His wife and kids are joining him in L.A. on Thursday.
“Hopefully we’re here until we win it all.”
Fans can follow Driver’s “Dancing with the Stars” journey on his Facebook and Twitter pages.
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