Jamal Adams started playing football at a mere 3 years old. Admittedly, he wasn't tracking down receivers and unleashing crushing tackles like he did over three seasons as a safety at Louisiana State University.
"I started picking up rocks and looking at butterflies when I first started playing," Adams recalls. "I remember running, getting the ball and running the wrong way to score a touchdown. I'll never forget she [my mother] was telling me to go the other way and I kind of just looked up, stared and then I went the opposite way."
Despite some early distractions and confusion about the rules—which is only natural for a 3-year-old—the projected first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft quickly came into his own and started dominating at an early age.
"Come age 5, I was scoring touchdowns. The rest is history," he says.
His early childhood experience started a love affair with the game. Adams lived and breathed football. He never wanted to put the ball down. He'd go outside after school to play football with his friends, and his mother would have to hunt him down to come in for the night.
Football was in Jamal's blood. And he would not be denied the chance to play the game he loved.
Following the Family Legacy
Jamal's father George was a successful running back at the University of Kentucky, and he was drafted 18th overall by the New York Giants in the 1985 NFL Draft and played six years in the league. When Jamal was born, it was a given—at least in his father's mind—that his son would follow in his footsteps.
"It was something that he kind of pushed me to do because he played," Jamal says.
Football was a constant fixture in the Adams household. George and Jamal watched as many games as they could every weekend. They talked about Jamal's play and reviewed film. George was often (and still is) Jamal's toughest critic.
"He's always hard on me but at the same time he loves me," Jamal says. "We just always had that bond, and as far as watching games and just doing everything together when it comes to sports."
Their football bond also fostered a friendly father-son competition as Jamal began to show his exceptional talents.
"I told [my dad] at age maybe 10 that I was going to be drafted higher than him. But we still have a bet till this day and hopefully I'm drafted higher than him," says Jamal. "I think it's just all friendly and competitive, but that bond is something that cannot be broken. We have a tremendous relationship and it's definitely gonna keep going and get better."
Off camera, Jamal told us the bet was for $40,000, but he questions whether his Dad will actually pay up.
Despite his tight relationship with his father, Jamal is a "Mama's boy" at heart, although he can't admit that in front of George. He credits his mother Michelle for making him a better person and giving him the tools to stay positive and tune out the negativity that comes with being in the spotlight as a collegiate or pro athlete.
"Staying grounded, treating people how you want to be treated. I think that it's very huge for me," he says. "Never have negative thoughts and just always keeping a smile on your face, and if you can't bring joy to others, just stay quiet."
Born to Lead
"Natural-born leader of men."
"The people who have been at that program [LSU] the longest think he might be the best leader LSU has had in years."
Those are two standout comments about Jamal's strength on his NFL.com scouting profile. It's high praise for an athlete coming out of a school known as Defensive Back University because of the number of star defensive backs it has produced.
He has incredible energy. In his training group at EXOS, he was he life of his training group, which consisted of several other top defensive back prospects. He cracked jokes as they were warming up and busted into dance moves between sets when one of his favorite songs blasted over the sound system.
One might think he looked unfocused. But when it was his turn to perform a drill or exercise, he was a beast. He moved with explosive speed and attacked weights with full effort. On testing day when the coaches measured the 40-Yard Dash, 20-Yard Shuttle and L-Drill, Jamal's numbers were at or near the top of the group.
"You know he's always going to have a big smile on his face. He is always going to give you a hard time," says Jonathan Barlow, the strength coach at EXOS who worked directly with Jamal. "He eats everything up and is very coachable, and that's one thing we like to see from a top draft pick. Not just someone who has talent but someone who wants to learn and continue to evolve, too."
Jamal told STACK that his fun-but-focused mindset is how he approaches football. He enjoys the moment but will lock in when it's time to focus in the weight room or in the huddle.
"Before a game, it's crazy. I'm a totally different person. I'm wild and I'm singing and I'm dancing," he says. "I'm really just acting a fool, man, but I'm also focused in and I'm very loose and when I get on the field, it's go time."
It's a strategy that has proven highly effective.
Dream Come True
Jamal's football journey, from chasing butterflies on the field when he was 3 to making huge plays for the Tigers—like his clutch pick against Alabama—is set to conclude on April 27, Day 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft.
"Honestly, every day, every night, before I go to bed, I watch videos on YouTube of people getting drafted in the previous years," he says. "Every time [NFL commissioner] Roger [Goodell] comes up and says who the fifth pick is . . . I always get goosebumps because it's almost here. It's something that you worked your whole life for and it's right around the corner."
He's even picked out the suit he plans to wear to the Draft.
"I already know what I'm going to wear," he avers. "I'm going to be a little nervous but I'm definitely going to be excited to hear my name called."
Most draft experts agree that Jamal will win the bet with his father and be selected in the top 10. Some draft boards have him going as high as third overall.
Regardless of Jamal's draft position or statistics, an NFL team and its fan base can expect a safety who plays with fire, passion and a smile on his face."[I want to be remembered as] someone who just gave it his all and played the game how it's supposed to be played . . . played with tons of passion," says Jamal.