Flourish in the Motherland
In 2019, Academy Award winning actor Al Pacino, who starred in the football movie Any Given Sunday, said: “I watch this guy Lamar Jackson. There are occasionally these players that are inspiring because you can see the game that they play is a game, and you can actually sense the joy they have in what they do. That's inspiring. Watching Lamar Jackson is an inspiration to actors.” On Monday night, we witnessed two giants of the game lock horns, as Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City Chiefs got the better of Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens. Both are cultural phenomena in pro football since joining from the college ranks. Each player has won league MVP in their toddler years in the NFL. In the case of Jackson, there’s something that is less well known. Since childhood, his mother has maintained a role as his coach, agent, and business manager.
A Trailblazing Family
Felicia Jones is mother of the reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. During the 2018 NFL draft, his mother represented him instead of a traditional agent. It was an unconventional route, but ultimately effective. Female agents and business managers, while not plentiful, are no
longer uncommon. In the last draft, top agent Nicole Lynn represented a number of highly sought after players, including Jedrick Wills and Jalen Hurts. Spurning an agent did mean that Jackson was a polarizing prospect, and appointing his mother his manager turned off some NFL teams. Lamar penned an article for The Players’ Tribune describing how he was introduced to football. Lamar detailed the workout regime that he used to do with Felicia when he was growing up in South Florida. “We would do a daily run in the heat to the bridge and back. Thinking back on it, imagining my mini self in a three-point stance blocking Mom, it’s kind of hilarious. But she knew what she was doing. She had a vision for my football career even before I did.” One tragic day in their family explains why the mother-son relationship is so close. Jackson lost his father and grandmother on the same day in 2005. He was only eight. From that day, his mother and he grew inseparable. Felicia instilled a formidable work ethic in him from an early age.
Lamar’s youth football coach Van Warren said: “When you see kids that have that gift, they don’t tend to work on it. … The greatest thing with Lamar was that he continued to work.” Tailor Your Offense for Lamar
South Florida had a reputation for producing phenomenal football talents, not necessarily quarterbacks. His mother steadfastly insisted he stick with the quarterback position, when numerous people were suggesting he consider switching to wide receiver or punt returner. Lamar received dozens of offers from big college programs, but Felicia said yes to Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino when he gave her his word that he would only start Lamar as the quarterback. Still 19, Jackson was the youngest ever Heisman Trophy winner and the first ever winner in Louisville school history. I went back and watched old tape of his performance in the cliffhanger against eventual national champions Clemson in 2016. For the first half he stood in the pocket and threw precise pass after pass. He saves his running for midway through the third quarter, and slays the Clemson defense. It's curious to see how doubted he was by many in the NFL as the ‘running QB’, when his passing game stacked up so well against a national championship defense. Felicia is fiercely private and politely says no to almost every interview request. As a family, they are quiet. The focus has been on making Lamar a starting pro football quarterback. They live together in a house near the Baltimore Ravens training facility. Evolution and Revolution As the Black players in the NFL mobilized for a video that expressed their beliefs and rebuked the NFL in June after the death of George Floyd, Lamar Jackson was the leading Black quarterback conspicuous by his absence in the video. However with the verdict in the Breonna Taylor case and his obvious connection to Louisville, he posted a statement last week stating; “It's crazy we never get justice for serious things. ... We're in America, where it should be freedom of speech, the land of the free. But I don't really feel like it's been that way for us Black people sometimes.” Lamar Mania is in full swing. Watching him twist and spin, throw Marquise Brown the deep ball and see how animated and excited he is in interviews, it's hard not to find him such a compelling story and character. It seems anyone can draw inspiration from Lamar, even my Irish school friends who were not raised on the game. Jackson cites former players Michael Vick and Reggie Bush as influences. When I watch him glide past defenders, he reminds me of Barry Sanders, the legendary Detroit Lions running back. He’s that talented, albeit a quarterback. I wrote previously that Ozzie Newsome’s last draft act as general manager was to bring Lamar Jackson to Baltimore in 2018. Since getting to the Ravens, Jackson has benefited from being part of one of pro football’s best run franchises, with the continuity of John Harbaugh as head coach and an organization that looks to bring in players to complement Jackson such as Mark Ingram - also a brilliant cultural fit.
The Secret of McNair Park In a declaration of intent that had shades of a young, fired-up Tom Brady, Jackson said after being drafted that Baltimore was going to get a Super Bowl out of him. He stepped into the Raven's nest and became a leader almost overnight.
Felicia Jones is one of the main reasons Lamar is such a star in the NFL and the man he is today. Neither has forgotten their roots. Every year Lamar hosts a training day with new recruits in his old neighborhood, McNair Park, Pompano Beach, Florida. Throughout his college years, Felicia continued to coach and work with young prospects at McNair.
Under his mother’s guidance, the boy who clearly loves to play the game as much as he did growing up in South Florida is destined to break records and captivate with every twist, juke and throw. And continue to do Al Pacino proud.