When it comes to playing under the spotlight as a professional athlete, there might be few who understand what comes with it better than Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. After being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Elliott quickly became one of the NFL’s brightest stars, winning two rushing titles in his first three seasons while also being named a two-time All-Pro.

During the course of his seven-year NFL career, Elliott has been under the constant microscope of the media due to his stature as one of the league’s most recognizable stars and playing for arguably the biggest brand in all of sports. But he hasn’t let it deter him to this point.

“Everyone wants to hear about the negatives, but what really matters is what our team thinks of us and what our teammates think of us,” Elliott says. “We know what we bring to the table. We’re professional athletes, it’s a reason I’m here and in this position, not because I’m lucky.”

Elliott sat down with Complex to discuss the Cowboys season thus far, playing under the spotlight of “America’s Team”, the potential addition of Odell Beckham Jr., his partnership with BioSteel and much more.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

How did this partnership with BioSteel come about?
So BioSteel, they approached me right when I got drafted to Dallas my rookie year. So it’s been a partnership that I have had since my rookie year, we have been together going on seven years. I have loved the product since the beginning, it provides me with a healthy and clean way to hydrate. It only has 10 calories, it tastes good, you really can’t beat it.

You’re an Ohio State Buckeye and you have played in “The Game” and know how important that game is. The last two years it has been a role reversal in the rivalry in losing to Michigan after pretty much dominating the rivalry for the previous 20 years. What do you think needs to happen to turn things around in that rivalry?
I think we just need to start embracing our physical side more. Commit to the running game a little bit more, because it’s Big 10 football. It’s going to be cold and you’re going to have bad weather toward the end of the year. So you are going to have to grind some games out on the ground. Just want to see us commit to running the ball.

The Cowboys are one of the top teams in the NFL once again this season. What do you think is one of the keys for you guys to focus in on during this last half of the season and into the playoffs?
I think the biggest thing right now is we have to clean up the penalties. I think that is the main thing holding us back right now. A lot of times in these games, teams really aren’t stopping us, we are just giving them an extra break or extra opportunities with these penalties. A lot of false starts, pre-snap penalties, some unnecessary roughness penalties. We just have to clean up our discipline and I think that’s going to take us to that next level and get us clicking how we should be clicking heading into the playoffs.

When it comes to the running back position in the NFL, you have had a lot of success throughout your career thus far, but it doesn’t quite seem like you get the respect you deserve for your body of work. Do you pay attention to the negative things that are said about you or do you not pay it any mind?
I think you definitely hear it, but it doesn’t bother me. No individual can hold me to a higher standard than I hold myself. Obviously you hear it, but it doesn’t have much merit to me. What’s important to me is what is going on in this locker room. I know how my team feels about me and how my teammates feel, and really that’s what is most important. 

I had a chance to talk to Trevon Diggs before the season and discuss his detractors and he said he doesn’t pay it much mind himself. Do you think a lot of the scrutiny comes with playing for the Cowboys, and under the bright lights of America’s Team?
I think that is a lot of it, we get so much media coverage, and there is so much attention around the Cowboys. Everyone wants to hear about the negatives, but what really matters is what our team thinks of us and what our teammates think of us. We know what we bring to the table. We’re professional athletes, it’s a reason I’m here and in this position, not because I’m lucky.

We talked about the Cowboys being 8-3, and you have a chance to add even more firepower with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. potentially. What is it you think he would add to the team on and off the field, because he seems to be well-liked amongst a lot of the key players on the Cowboys even though he has never played with any of you.
For one, it’s the NFL and every team is good so you need as much firepower that you can get. Who doesn’t want another piece added to their team and OBJ, you know the type of player he is and what he has done in this league. You know his ability and how he can change the game, and that paired with the receivers we already have with CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Noah Brown, why not add one more really good piece?

Like you said, everybody is good in the NFL so you know first-hand how hard it is to win week-to-week, and especially in the playoffs. Do you think this team is more well-equipped to overcome the small things that have held you all back in the playoffs in years past whether it was against the Packers or the 49ers last season? 
I think it’s very hard to even get to the playoffs for one, but in the playoffs it’s a different game. The game speeds up, and it’s one and done. In basketball or baseball you have to beat a team three out of five times or four out of seven times. In football, you have one shot so you have to make the most of that. This years team, what makes us more well-equipped to make that championship run is we are anchored by that defense. Demarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons leading that defense, they definitely are an integral part of our team. And secondly, that run game. Our run game has been heating up. Me and Tony Pollard, we have definitely been catching fire and that offensive line has been rolling. So as we get closer to the playoffs, I would say paying attention to that defense and that running game.

Speaking of the running game, yourself and Tony Pollard are probably the top running back tandem in the league right now. When you see people say things like running backs don’t matter, especially people who have never played football, does it bother you at all? How do you as a running back feel when you hear that?
It’s definitely some disrespect in that, but like you said, it’s people who have never played football before. First of all, it’s 11 players on the field at a time and all 11 players matter. It’s not one player on the field that doesn’t matter. It’s a lot of disrespect but all we can do is keep going out there and performing.