It’s often said that success requires blood, sweat, and tears. Sitting on the lake’s edge that warm May night, Jerrod knew he’d given all three. The blood and sweat every day on the field, and now, the tears as he sit alone, trying to wrap his head around the fact that his football career may be over.
“Not getting drafted made me re-evaluate everything,” he said “Is this what I really wanted to do? If someone says they don’t want to hang it up after that, they’re lying.”
And he nearly did give it up, spending every day locked in his room at his Houston family home, watching as rookie draft picks took the practice field with their new teams. The NFL Network was a constant reminder of Jerrod’s disappointment and the disappointment that affects those hundreds who never hear their names called on Sundays.
The journey to the NFL is a lonely one; months spent on the practice field, trying to perfect a simple get-off; hours spent analyzing game film and breaking down technique; days spent wondering, “When will I be drafted?”
Jerrod is no stranger to these moments. From the quiet night spent at his favorite Iowa lake to the early mornings struggling to sleep in the back seat of his Tahoe, he’s spent much of this journey alone. But it’s his family and closest friends that motivated him to push through and embrace his lifelong dream.
“He felt so sorry for himself, recalls Jacqueline. “He had a friend, KO [Kelechi Osemele], who was practicing every day with the Ravens. Jerrod looked at KO and sulked while watching TV and I challenged him to get up and look at the world in a different light.”
So, Jacqueline bought her son a plane ticket to Baltimore and flew Jerrod to see Kelechi the very next day. Maybe, she thought, spending some time with a college roommate would encourage Jerrod to continue the fight. He spent two weeks with Kelechi, and in that time, realized he was more than just a player who missed his opportunity.
“Kelechi sat me down and said, ‘Dude, you can play in the NFL, you need to give it one more shot,” Jerrod remembers. “Kelechi’s a very black-and-white person, and he’s always going to tell you exactly what he’s feeling.”
The mental toll of denial wouldn’t stop Jerrod. Not getting drafted planted the idea in his head that he wasn’t good enough for the league. But that talk, coupled with the inspiring words of his late grandfather, set forth a plan in Jerrod’s mind that would require more blood, sweat, and tears than ever before.
“If you do something, you make sure you’re the very best at it.”
Jerrod returned home at the end of his trip with a renewed focus and desire for football. “I crafted a plan to get into the league and made the decision that nothing was going to stop me,” he said.
He began training again and moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin in December 2012. The Packers, of course, were the team, but Jerrod wasn’t braving the cold for Cheeseheads. No, he was in Wisconsin to play for the Green Bay Blizzard, an arena football team willing to give the defensive tackle a shot.
“I was there for two weeks and tore my ACL on a dirty play after the whistle,” he said. And just like that, the dream was once again on hold for Jerrod. He didn’t let the injury slow him down, though. Sticking true to his plan, Jerrod split his time between ETS Elite HQ and House of Speed, two training facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There, he made a full recovery over the course of 11 months and was heathy enough to start training again in January 2014.
“I was fortunate enough to have great parents and family in that situation,” he said. “They supported me through the rehab and helped me learn so much more about my body than ever before.”
Healthy and confident in the strength of his repaired knee, Jerrod was ready to step back on the field. But one night, again sitting alone in his bedroom, Jerrod received a Facebook message that would alter his course completely.
“This guy, Noel Scarlett, reached out to me,” Jerrod remembers, laughing as he shares the story. “He said, ‘Aye Black, you’re an NFL defensive tackle, but you’re not that good. Yeah you’re not that good. You come to Dallas, and I’m going to get you ready for your first tryout.”
Shocked, Jerrod sat and tried to piece together what he’d just read. Who was this stranger? How did he find me? After a week, Jerrod reached out and agreed to make the drive from Green Bay to Dallas. When he arrived at Scarlett’s training facility, 4th and Inches, he knew he’d made the right choice.
4th and Short
“I walked into his office as soon as I rolled in, and before I could sit down, Noel said, ‘Alright, let’s get to work,” Jerrod recalls. The workout was the toughest of Jerrod’s life, a mix of resistance bands, free weights, sprints, and competitions that lasted nearly six hours. But Scarlett’s players have never failed an NFL conditioning test, and his training is regarded as some of the most intense in the industry.
Scarlett, a seventh-round draft pick of the Vikings in 1999, opened 4th and Inches in 2002 with the dream of creating a year-round, football-specific facility for NFL players and college prospects alike. He’s grown the center to more than 7,500 square feet and has trained players from current Vikings guard Isame Faciane to 2016 NFL Draft prospect Sheldon Day.
After three months of gruesome training and preparation, Noel called Jerrod into his office in May 2014. “He told me that the Cowboys may bring me in for a workout, Jerrod said. “He said he knew that I was going to be good and to expect a call from Dallas at any moment.
That moment came on a Friday afternoon following one of Scarlett’s signature workouts. “They called me, told me I was invited to minicamp, and that practice starts in an hour,” Jerrod said. “I ran out of the facility, called my mom and dad, and made it to the Cowboys’ facility just in time.”
He spent the weekend with the Cowboys, shuffling from meetings to the practice field and back to meetings, all while trying to keep his composure. The lights of the NFL can be blinding, but Jerrod’s humble approach shined through those few days. “It felt so good to get to that point, but I always told myself that it was never a time to celebrate,” he said. “It was time to work harder than ever before.”
And that he did, impressing coaches enough to receive some good news from Noel the following Monday. “Noel told me that I’d done everything right, and that the Cowboys were going to sign me that week.” But days passed, and phone calls never came. Finally, the Cowboys reached out to Jerrod, informing him that they’d be bringing in Amobi Okoye instead.
“Life became more of a mental test at that point,” Jerrod said. “You have to have a will, to really want something, to continue to pursue it. I love football, and I had to refocus myself to get where I wanted to go.”
If that meant sleeping in his car, missing meals, and working out six days a week, that’s what Jerrod was going to do. He’s the first one in the gym, and he’s the last one out, continuously looking for ways to improve his game and seize his next NFL opportunity.
The journey doesn’t come without it’s trials, though. “You’re always going to have one of those days, once per week, once per month, when you ask yourself, ‘What am I doing, am I ever going to get a phone call, do I need to get a job and say screw it’?” But Jerrod presses on, lifting more weight each day and working tirelessly to earn one of the NFL’s coveted 53 roster spots.
“It’s always light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how dark it may seem, no matter how the situation may get, you have to adapt to any situation you’re in and press forward.”
As Jerrod continues to train, he’s received interest from multiple NFL teams. Like many other free agents waiting for their chance, he has a message for those reading:
Everything that has happened to me and that I have experienced as an athlete up to this point has prepared me for now. The countless hours of workouts, the blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights and early mornings; the mental aspect of staying focused and staying disciplined, from seeing people who you thought were there for you fade and seeing who is really there for you when adversity hits. To any team that is willing to give me an opportunity, I will say this to you — to say I’m ready would be a understatement. I’ve been groomed by the man upstairs for this NFL opportunity, and you will get a humble player who was raised with a fishing pole and a ball in his hand. I’m going to put it on the line and bring a blue collar attitude and a smile on my face everyday. I love this game and I want to show any GM and organization that they didn’t make a mistake and show the world what I can do day-in and day-out.