By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
On his first play in the seventh grade, as member of his school’s eighth-grade football team, Jamal Adams ran the ball back 75 yards on his opponents. In that moment, he realized that not only did he have he no doubt he wanted to play in the NFL someday, he had no doubt that he could. And neither did his father, George, a former NFL running back.
The youngest of four children, Jamal, a safety and the New York Jets 2017 first-round Draft pick (No. 6 overall), grew up knowing his father’s history as a first-round NFL Draft pick for the New York Giants (No. 19 overall) in 1985. He was also aware that his father’s career, which included a stint with the New England Patriots, had ended prematurely due to a lingering hip injury sustained during the Giants’ 1986 Super Bowl season. In fact, although Jamal played both running back and safety growing up, his father gently encouraged him more in the direction of playing defense.
“Running backs take a beating,” Jamal said. “He’d rather me deliver the hit. I’ve always played safety and I love it.”
George never pushed Jamal toward football, but once it was apparent how invested his son was in the sport, and how much natural ability he had, he set out to provide support, but to also make sure that his son stayed grounded and focused.
“He would see things as far as effort and playing my best, he would always tell me the truth and that’s what I respected about my father,” Jamal said. “He would always give his input on how I played. I would always listen to him and try to get better.”
“I love the game and I started seeing that he loved the game,” George said. “The reason I knew he loved the game, he made sure he’d get home do his homework so he could go to practice. He wanted to make sure his mom was happy.
“When I see stuff like that I said, ‘He’s going to be something special.’ But I would never tell him anything that would try to blow his head up. If I saw him walking around like he’s a big-time-guy I’d bring him down.”
George had been a “big-time-guy” when he was the No. 1 player on his high school team in Lexington, Kentucky and then went on to star at the University of Kentucky. But, the youngest of nine children, with a father who was mostly absent, he learned early on that working hard and staying humble were going to be the keys to his success and he was committed to passing along that same ethic to his own children.
As a true freshman at LSU, Jamal immediately became a starter. He subsequently earned numerous awards and accolades including All-SEC selections in each of his three years. Then, when it became obvious that the NFL was legitimately on the horizon, George was able to provide invaluable knowledge gained from his own first-hand experience, which made the process easier for everyone from selecting an agent, to finances, to navigating the daily requirements and pressures of being an NFL player.
“I didn’t have anybody to lead me and guide me to make me understand about pro football,” George said. “Now with my son I can guide him because I had been there, done that.”
Looking back, Jamal acknowledges that the combination of his father’s NFL experience along with the strong foundation his family gave him were instrumental in helping him realize his dreams.
“I always was a kid that listened,” Jamal said. “My dad always taught me to be coachable. I always wanted to learn so, I was always that kid who tried to find an edge, see what I could pick up from older guys so, any time he would talk about something I would listen.
“I’m very fortunate to have my father and my mother. She keeps me wise, keeps me very humble. [My family is] very close. My brothers have told me right from wrong at a very young age and my sister does as well. So, I’ve always been grounded. I worked hard, never complained, just doing the right things.”
Having settled in Texas after George retired from the NFL, the family remained staunch Giants fans, not only because of George, but mom Michelle was from Yonkers, New York just across the river from where the Giants training facility is located. Being drafted by the Jets was an interesting twist, but has reinforced those New York ties, especially since there is still extended family in the area.
“I’m glad he ended up in New York,” said George, adding with a laugh, “At least he wasn’t drafted by the Cowboys.”
Now, with his father still there to guide and support, it’s up to Jamal to carve out his own NFL future. But, he’s holding fast to what he considers the most important piece of advice George gave him.
“Be yourself and don’t let the game be bigger than what it is,” said Jamal, who will wear his father’s No. 33. “At the end of the day, I’m on a new level, I’m a rookie, sitting back and just taking each day as it comes. All I can do is just be myself.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.