I’m 24 years old, and time already feels precious. That’s the reality when you’re an NFL player on the roster bubble, knowing a bad week during training camp could be the end of my dream.
Unlike so many other NFL players, my roster spot isn’t guaranteed. Coming into the league from the University of Michigan back in 2016, I was told that being a late-round pick was possible. Instead, as that Saturday afternoon wore on and the selections waned, I readied. I was going to be an undrafted free agent despite having a solid collegiate career.
Truthfully, it’s probably better than being selected in the seventh round. When you’re undrafted, you have options. You can decide where you want to go to an extent. For me, Jacksonville was the answer. The Jaguars were a young team with potential. It was a simple decision. I thought I could make the 53-man roster.
My first season was a blur. I made the team and was active for all 16 games, a reserve safety behind veterans Tashaun Gipson and Jonathan Cyprien. Unfortunately, the team went 3-13, and turnover was on the way. New coaching staffs often means a serious churn of the roster. In the NFL, coaches want to bring in new guys. Their guy.
The team chose to hire Doug Marrone who was the offensive line coach prior, to becoming the interim head coach. He knew me. He knew the other guys, which made the transition not as difficult. In 2017, the team had a different vibe. We added veterans in A.J. Bouye and Barry Church, two big factors in the secondary. Good guys to talk football with, both helping me learn some tricks. We are all football junkies, always wanting to learn more.
The same applies for Perry Fewell, my position coach. He’s intense but he’s cool. He’s always working us to be better, and it’s hard to argue with the results.
We won 10 games last year, and I got playing time in the AFC Divisional win over the Steelers. I played 35 snaps, more than any other game in my career. My parents, Audra and Johnny, were in the stands, a quick drive from Akron. I’d like to think they were beaming with pride while those final seconds ticked off.
Still, there’s so much more for me to get out of myself. The work is only beginning, but I’m willing to put the time in.
Last season, I played 88 snaps on defense along with my core role on special teams. I take pride in all phases of the game, but let’s be real. I’m a safety. I want to play defense and pick some passes. I want to make a name for myself while staying humble. I’m a team guy first. Always have been, always will be.
With OTAs over, the summer is my time to get my body right before the grind of camp. My typical day has me at the gym for three hours, doing anything from cardio to weights. Everyday is different, but the effort is consistent. If I keep showing up, I’m winning my battle.
I play for myself, but it’s more than being about me. It’s about my family It’s about all the hard work I put in as a kid growing up in inner-city Akron.
This fall, you’re going to know my name and my opponent is going to feel my impact. After all the years of pouring sweat and blood into this endeavor, my time has come.
Let’s go Jags.