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Behind the Facemask: Prince Shembo

Frank Kleha: Since it's the Thanksgiving holiday, what are you most thankful for?

Prince Shembo: I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here and playing in the NFL. It's something that I've been working on for a while. I'm thankful for having a great family. And just for the opportunity to be in the United States. Both of my parents are from Africa so the opportunities for some people are not there.

FK: You visited the Shepherd Center in downtown Atlanta with the Falcons Rookie Club recently and you recalled that your mother works in a similar facility in Charlotte. What was that experience like?

PS: She's worked in the spinal department of the Carolina Medical Center ever since I was little. I actually had a chance to see what my mother witnesses every day. One thing that was really touching was you could seem them smiling. They have a smile on their face going through that kind of situation. It's easy to get down on yourself but they were smiling just looking at us. It was real powerful.

FK: Who is your favorite athlete in another sport and why?

PS: LeBron James. He has humbling beginnings. I liked the way the media scrutinized him and he dealt with it. I thought he handled himself well. On top of that, he's a great competitor and he's a leader.

FK: Since you are such a big basketball fan who is your all-time favorite player?

PS: LeBron is now, but I've always liked young Shaq (O'Neal), when he was young and dominant with the Orlando Magic, and Lakers, dropping 30 points from the post. He was unstoppable. Everyone remembers how dominant he was. He was a beast.

FK: How about the player you followed the most in the NFL growing up?

PS: I have three. When I was growing up I liked Ray Lewis, Sean Taylor and Ricky Williams of the Dolphins.

FK: What is your most vivid first sports memory?

PS: It would be the first time I dunked in a game in 7th grade. It was on a fast break and it was my first time dunking. I think I was about 5-9.

FK: Was that the very first time you attempted to dunk?

The Atlanta Falcons, who lead the NFC South, were back on the practice fields on Wednesday to prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals, who sit on top of the NFC West, on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

PS: That's the first time I dunked in a game. I remember I was at church with my pops and I tried 30 or 40 times to try to dunk a basketball. I was close every time. I hit the rim over and over again. I kept on going and I finally got it. Once you get it, it starts coming more and more.

FK: If you wanted to sit down and watch just one movie what would it be?

PS: I would say "Rush Hour 2." Chris Tucker is hilarious. I love Chris Tucker. He's my favorite actor.

FK: What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

PS: I'm just a real laid back guy. When people get to know me, I'm pretty funny.

FK: What's your best experience since coming into the NFL?

PS: Playing in my first NFL game (against the Saints on Sept. 7). I've never been to an NFL game, period (before that).  I grew up in Charlotte and when we went to Carolina that was the first time I've been to that stadium.

FK: Other than a pro football player what did you want to be growing up?

PS: I had my eye set on being a pro athlete all along. But I don't know what sport though. It was between this and basketball. I was really striving for basketball. I played basketball first and football was always just fun for me. I've been this height since 8th grade. I thought I was going to grow to be 6-7 or 6-8 (smiling) and then who knows.

FK: So you must have had a strong high school basketball career. Tell me about your high school years.  

PS: I played power forward on varsity since I was a freshman. I almost had a triple double once for points, rebounds and blocks. I held the school record for career blocks at one point.

FK: If you could have dinner with any four people in history who would it be?

PS: Number one by far is Nelson Mandela. I would probably sit with all activists. The others would be Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.

FK: What's your guilty pleasure?

Giving back to the community for Thanksgiving, the Rookie Club, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, and several veteran players prepared and served food at Crossroads Community Ministries in Atlanta.

PS: My number one indulgence is plantains. It's cultural and it's my favorite above anything. I like lemon and apple pies, and in training I won't touch them. But plantains I could eat every day. If I see them I will eat a whole bunch of them. Usually, if I go to get some food I make sure I grab some plantains.

FK: What kind of music do you like listening to the most?

PS: I like rap, R&B and reggae. I like reggae a lot.

FK: What reggae artists do you like?

PS: I like all kinds of reggae, including dance hall reggae and Mulatto. I listen to Bob Marley before I come to practice. I also enjoy Mavado and Elephant.

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