GREEN BAY — Letroy Guion came to Green Bay a little more than two years ago seeking an opportunity to continue his football career.
In the process, he discovered something that went much further than pads and helmets – Guion found a home with the Packers.
“Getting involved with this team has probably been the best experience in my life,” said Guion earlier this week. “It’s been an eye-opener for me.”
Sitting inside his locker, the 6-foot-4, 322-pound defensive lineman still remembers exploring the halls of Lambeau Field for the first time during a free-agent visit in March 2014.
Guion, recently released from Minnesota, had played against the Packers on a few occasions but always was more concentrated on the NFC North battle at hand than sightseeing.
The visit gave him a chance to experience the area and get a feel for the team. While touring the facilities, Guion came across defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the weight room.
The two shook hands and sparked a conversation that sticks with Guion to this day.
“He told me I was going to be here,” recalled Guion with a smile. “I had just come over from (a visit with) the Patriots. I came here and they showed me a lot of love, and a lot of respect. I knew right away this is where I wanted to be.”
The right fit
Looking back, Guion is thankful for the Packers’ interest in him. His journey has not been an easy one and he’ll be the first to admit the mistakes that were made along the way.
Inside these walls, however, a football player has matured and a man has grown. He enters this season – his ninth in the NFL – with more clarity and focus than ever before.
Guion points out three reasons for why he feels at peace entering this season – a full offseason and training camp of preparation, his year-round training regimen in Green Bay and a locker room that’s been unwavering in its support of him.
“I feel like I’m on track going into the season,” Guion said. “It’s a big plus for me because I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a season the way I feel this year. I feel complete and I feel like I’m ready.”
There have been obstacles Guion has had to overcome in his first two seasons with the Packers, starting with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of training camp in 2014.
He was then thrust into the starting nose tackle job after B.J. Raji sustained a season-ending biceps tear. Guion showed rust the first month of the season before settling in to have a career year, registering 32 tackles and 3½ sacks.
He enjoyed a full offseason in 2015 but missed the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL policy on substances of abuse stemming from a February arrest in Starke, Fla.
Guion put the incident behind him, but again had to get back into football shape during a slow start before playing better during the second half of the season.
He re-signed with the Packers in February and immediately set out to blend a healthy, productive offseason with a strong start to the regular season rather than playing from behind.
One move the Packers feel should help him is a switch from defensive end to nose tackle, a starting spot that opened up following Raji’s decision to take a hiatus from football.
“I think Letroy is a better nose tackle than out at the end,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “That’s where he’s played. We’ve used him out at the end at certain times but we like him inside at the nose tackle. When we play our nickel defense, we like him in there on one of the guards or over the center.”
Living on the land
Taking a cue from Daniels, Guion now lives in the Green Bay area year-round, allowing him to focus on his two biggest passions: football and fishing.
During his off-days, Guion often can be found casting a line into Machickanee Flowage in Stiles, Wis., or any of the other surrounding lakes and rivers in the northeast part of the state.
He travels to Lake Michigan, Shawano Lake and Fox River in search of crappie and smallmouth bass. Both are difficult to find, but rewarding to reel in.
Guion enjoys trading outdoors stories in the Packers’ locker room with receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis, and offensive lineman Josh Walker, all of whom hunt and fish.
“We talk about that all the time,” Guion said. “This team you can’t only talk to one group. This team is so family-oriented that everybody talks to everybody, which makes the relationship of the team even stronger.”
Understanding the distractions present in his hometown of Starke, Fla., Guion’s mom, Connie, encouraged her kids to find hobbies in an effort to keep them off the streets.
Fishing always has been an escape for Guion and he had no shortage of options, listing in rapid succession Keystone Lake, Sampson Lake, Santa Fe Lake and Orange Lake as his favorite spots.
His favorite pastime was fishing for mullet in the St. John’s River, and he even dabbled in nabbing catfish at Rodman Campground in Palatka.
Don’t confuse Guion with a noodler, though. He’s heard all the horror stories about old-timers who’d get a finger bit off by a snapping turtle hiding underneath the water.
That’s not to mention the snakes, water moccasins and alligators who also bed down in the holes catfish inhabit.
“I have tried noodling before but I was very, very scared. That isn’t my type of fishing,” Guion said. “I need all my fingers and toes to play football.”
Besides catfish, there were plenty of other fishing options around his home to keep him preoccupied. The St. John’s River was a prime location for finding crab, shrimp and oysters.
Guion’s mom held down a number of jobs to make ends meet, but sometimes that wasn’t enough to keep food on the table. In those instances, the catch of the day served as dinner.
“Sometimes that was our bread and butter. That’s how we ate,” Guion said. “Sometimes that was the only way we could have food when I was younger.”
His humble beginnings still play a part in Guion’s life today. While money no longer is tight, he lives off the land and doesn’t venture out to the grocery store unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“I still do it to put food on the table,” says Guion, proudly.
Guion turned 29 in June and understands how he fits into the Packers’ locker room. He’s an elder in a young defensive line room and the 10th-oldest player on the team.
Yet, it doesn’t seem that long ago when the Vikings drafted him in the fifth round in 2008, giving him the opportunity to work alongside the “Williams Wall” in Minnesota.
Soon after he arrived as a rookie, veteran defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams immediately took Guion under their wing and began molding him into the lineman he is today.
Every day in practice, they’d tell him what he was doing wrong and how to correct his mistakes. They showed him how to attack double-teams and be more effective with his hands.
It made him more technically sound and exceedingly grateful. For all the strides he made on the field, Guion’s true leadership qualities didn’t come out until he signed with the Packers.
Now a respected voice among his peers, Guion has made first-round pick Kenny Clark his personal project. Both play nose tackle in the base defense and a three-technique interior lineman in the sub-packages.
The two have spent a lot of time together on the practice field and in the meeting rooms in an effort to get the rookie up to speed for the start of the year.
“Letroy is a great dude – he’s a fire-and-energy guy,” Clark said. “He does a great job of helping me out and teaching me everything I need to know. He’s doing a tremendous job of helping me get caught up to speed with the NFL.”
With Mike Pennel set to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the regular season, Guion and Daniels will be the only defensive linemen on the roster with prior NFL experience.
The Packers leaned heavily on both this offseason to set the tone for a front that will be critical to the success of the defense.
“I think anytime you see players who are able to advance and do as well as they’ve done, there’s a natural leadership role they fall into through their credibility and playing performance,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
“The other part of it, too, is how we operate as a program, how we do things, and I think both of those guys have done a great job, particularly in a practice environment, a classroom environment of showing those guys the way.”
Resting in his locker, Guion finally feels complete. Distraction-free, he just wants to play football and his appreciation for his teammates and coaches knows no bounds.
Unsolicited, Guion begins to list all of the players he’s grateful to call teammates – Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari – before conceding that there’s not even time to name them all.
Guion has made mistakes and tried learn from those experiences. Now, he wants to return the favor in a big way for the team that believed in him through thick and thin.
“I feel good. I feel young. I feel explosive,” Guion said. “I’m having a lot of fun in practice and out of practice with my teammates. I feel like everything is going the right way and I’m doing it the right way. It feels amazing to be on track.”