DeMarcus Ware Is Ready to Join the NFL's Roster of 'Dancing With the Stars' Champions (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images
DeMarcus Ware has a ring, now he's ready for a mirrorball.
The former pro defenseman and Super Bowl 50 champion joined an even more exclusive brotherhood of NFL players last week when he became the latest gridiron great to lace up his samba shoes and step onto the Dancing With the Stars ballroom floor. And he's certainly studying the playbook of those who have gone before him.
“I talked to a couple guys, like Donald Driver, Emmitt Smith, T.O., ‘cause I played with a lot of those guys. And I coach Von Miller during the season, so he’s like, right there on tap," Ware recently told ET. "I think it’s just a great opportunity to be amongst [those guys] -- it’s almost like a fraternity."
Plus, it doesn't hurt to get the inside track on the competition from a few prior champs. Ware is the 22nd NFL vet to grace the DWTS ballroom, and many have fared particularly well in the competition, with 10 players finishing in the top three, and four -- Emmitt Smith, Hines Ward, Donald Driver and Rashad Jennings -- taking home the coveted mirrorball trophy.
"The guys that did Dancing With the Stars, you can get a little bit of light from them," Ware revealed. "Like, ‘Hey, what should I do during the cha cha, or the samba, or the rhumba, or the tango?’ But also, what separates you from the other competitors?"
"They can go through some of the things -- maybe if you’re athletic, you can do more jumps, or you can do more lifts. You gotta be more elegant. They wanna see a big guy be smooth.... Don’t look robotic,'" he shared of some of the advice he's gotten from Miller and others. "They want you to look smooth, and that’s what can really set you apart."
Ware is also getting great advice from his pro partner, Lindsay Arnold, who took home her first mirrorball last fall with season 25 champ Jordan Fisher. Arnold has some experience being teamed up with athletic stars -- she placed third with former NFL wide receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. and second with World Series champion David Ross in the two seasons prior to her big win -- and her partner says she's been a great coach so far.
"Since the the first time we met, [we’ve gotten to a point where] she’s teaching me a lot of the dance moves the way I’m able to learn it, from a football aspect," Ware shared of how "#TeamWaresMyMirrorball" is handling the rigorous DWTS practice schedule. "With me, I want you to give me all the information at once, like I’m learning from a playbook, which I had to do every week [in the NFL]. Then, we dissect it as we go through the dance."
"She’s really been taking that on very well and teaching me. And she’s a funny character, someone that keeps the rehearsal going. I mean, she’s non-stop."
Working with Arnold and the rest of the DWTS troupe, Ware noted, has also given him a higher appreciation for dance as both an art form and a legitimate sporting event.
"Those dancers are athletes. I can see that right now," he said. "Sometimes, as a football player, you think usually an athlete is only [someone who plays] football, basketball, baseball, a track runner. Dancers are athletes themselves, I can see that. They’re very, very competitive."
The Auburn, Alabama, native grew up as a multi-sport athlete, playing baseball, basketball, and running track in addition to football. He was drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 and spent nine seasons with the team, departing as the franchise's all-time sack leader. After three more seasons with the Denver Broncos -- and a Super Bowl 50 championship -- Ware retired a Cowboy, and a nine-time All-Pro, in 2015.
However, despite his dominance on the field and the bolstering from friends and former teammates, he had never set foot on a dance floor prior to DWTS. And the prolific pass rusher admits that even his kids, daughter Marley, 10, and son DeMarcus II, 7, were skeptical about the undertaking.
"Before I left, [my son] recorded me practicing the cha cha, and he said, ‘Dad, you don’t do too well when the music’s on. Your rhythm’s a little off.' And my daughter was like, “I don’t know, Dad. But we’re gonna be cheering for you!’"
However, Ware's week one performance, a cha cha to Flo Rida's "Sweet Sensation," won the judges over and tied for the highest score of week one: a 23 out of 30. It was also, it seems, enough to impress his closest critics -- for now.
“They were like, ‘Oh my god, Dad, I can’t believe what you did and how you did it. You really improved!’" he said of FaceTiming with his children following his Dancing debut. "It was great coming from my kids. Because your kids and your family are always in your heart. The people that are important to you -- my girlfriend and my mom, they were there to see [me dance last week.] Just them, knowing that I can’t dance at all, [it was great] to shock them a little bit.”
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Though he's happy with the score, Ware isn't resting on his laurels by any means, describing the competition this season as "very stiff" so far.
"It helps build confidence, when it comes to me not knowing any of the moves and saying, 'OK, you can do this,'" he said of topping the leaderboard in week one. "But that doesn’t mean anything to me when you start thinking about the score. Everybody scored pretty high in the [first week of] competition... everybody came out with their A-game."
He's also aware, as he prepares for his week two foxtrot and quickstep performances, that he's facing more of a learning curve when it comes to mastering the moves than some of his fellow mirrorball hopefuls. "There’s, like, not many amateurs. Like, me, I would consider myself an amateur, meaning I’ve never touched a dance floor before. Being taught by a professional every single step, whereas some people have seen these steps for the last 14 years, 20 years... It makes it a lot harder, and a lot more competitive."
"Now, in the weeks to come, that’s when you’re really gonna see a difference," he added. "This week we have to do two dances, Monday and Tuesday, and we only have, like, three or four days to prepare...You want to make sure you’re critiquing yourself right. It’s pretty hard."
That struggle, however, is part of the reason Ware signed on to the competition in the first place. "I decided to do Dancing With the Stars because in this world right now, everybody thinks that being comfortable is what success brings," he explained. "For me, I think you gotta make yourself comfortable in uncomfortable situations. That’s when you see how well you thrive and how well you change, and that’s what I want to show the world. That’s how everyone should be. That’s how the United States and the whole world should be."
"I don’t know anything about dance, but I’m gonna give it everything that I have, and say that, you know, you still can thrive in an area that you don’t know anything about," he added. "That’s when you really see your character."
Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.