Football, the all-American sport, widely known for its physicality, endurance and athleticism, can hardly be summed up in a few words. As lived not only by those who play the sport, some view it as a dogma where rules are followed to the precision of an incontrovertible group of referees who at the same time are aided by the power of technology. Every play, every moment and every breath these players take are experienced by millions of fans, not only in the United States but in numerous regions around the globe. On this very special occasion, and in the midst of Super Bowl 50 to be celebrated on February 7th, we had the opportunity to get a livelier yet intimate look at a team whose passion and dedication has led them to this unique moment. Through the lens of a single Leica M, Carolina Panthers’ Center, Ryan Kalil, shows us that even though the glamour, success and even pain can be experienced all at the same time through football, the camaraderie inside any team is of the utmost value.

Please tell us a bit about your football career and your interest in photography and Leica.

I can’t remember when football hasn’t been part of my life. With Super Bowl 50 I will be finishing my ninth season in the National Football League. Photography has always been a hobby of mine and the Leica M is easily my favorite camera. I especially adore the black and white photos I take with my M, they are incredibly beautiful and timeless. But what I really admire most about this camera is that it allows you to be in the moment.

Your perspective and focus on the game is unique playing Center, where focus is the key word here. Is there a reason why you prefer your Leica M rather than using other more sporty audiovisual equipment, say Go-Pro? Maybe something to do with the manual focus?

I love my position in the game of football. It is extremely difficult but very rewarding. I am responsible for seeing the entire field and relaying that information to the entire offense so every play starts with my perspective. The same can be said when using my Leica M. The rangefinder on the M allows me to see the entire field. You have to really think about what you are shooting and make careful, decisive choices. While other cameras can auto everything and burst capture a million photos a second… the manual focus on the Leica demands more from you and makes for a much more rewarding experience.

Preparation is arguably the single most important aspect of football where you get to deeply know your teammates, their style of play, their fears, their hopes, almost everything. What moments behind-the-scenes do you like to photograph the most?

I think what I love most about professional football is that it is such a melting pot of people and personalities. There is more diversity and culture in any given locker room than anywhere else and I feel fortunate to be present in that environment. Our uniqueness and individual experiences play an immense role in our success and every photograph I’ve taken of them has captured some essence of what makes that individual unique. I love to capture the moments leading up to a practice or game. Photography allows you to really observe people and with my teammates… I enjoy watching the different personalities and how they prepare, the sort of “calm before the storm.” It’s incredibly inspiring.

Leica stands for legacy, quality, heritage, timelessness. Do these words resonate with you?

I’m a bit of an old soul to begin with so naturally I’m drawn to one of the most famous, classic cameras in the world but just because you can own a great camera doesn’t mean you will take great photographs. When I take this camera in my hands I feel a sense of responsibility to the heritage and legacy of Leica as well as the incredible community of Leica photographers. Much like my teammates on Sunday, I don’t want to let them down and so I’m constantly shooting, learning, taking risks and continually working to better my abilities.

In the world of sports, athletes often ‘get in their zone’ by listening to music or even doing yoga. Would you say taking pictures is your own way of doing this?

Football is obviously a very physically taxing endeavor but emotionally the stress and nerves before a big game can be as equally draining. Photography is very therapeutic for me. It allows me to clear my mind and just be present.

[Tweet “”Playing football surprisingly has many parallels to photography. It takes skill, passion, dedication” @leica_camera #LeicaM #Superbowl50 @RyanKalil”]

Taking photographs sometimes means being in the right place at the right time to take the perfect shot. Undoubtedly, you’ve been in the right place and at the right time as the offensive frontman preventing sacks on Cam Newton. Now, as a protagonist in one of the most important games ever, what are your predictions?

Playing football surprisingly has many parallels to photography. It takes skill, passion, dedication. You have to move quickly, adapt and improvise. And sometimes when it seems like nothing is going your way… you get lucky and the “ball bounces your way.” Joshua Foer said, “our lives are the sum of our memories,” playing professional football has afforded me the most incredible memories and I’m delighted that I get to capture a few with my Leica M.

If you were able to take a single picture with your Leica during the game, what would that moment be?

Ask any current or former player what their fondest memories are and not one of them will recount a play or a game or season but rather their time with their teammates. When I look back on my career I will always remember the huddle. If I could take a single picture with my Leica during the game it would be out on the field right before a play of our huddle. One perfect shot of the ten other souls in that focused, intense, fragile huddle, seconds before we disperse to lay it out on the line for each other one more time. Unfortunately, I will never be allowed to take my camera on the field but I love to think about how I would compose that shot.

To connect with Ryan Kalil, follow him on Twitter or watch him play with the Panthers on Sunday February 7th during Super Bowl 50.