Lions’ rookie Jacobs overcomes troubled past to make his play for a roster spot

Detroit News

Allen Park — When you consider the road Jerry Jacobs has traveled to reach this point, it’s remarkable he still has a shot to live out his NFL dream.

An undrafted rookie out of Arkansas, via Arkansas State, via Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Jacobs has overcome personal tragedy that led to a subsequent string of bad decisions. Each, on their own, could have been the pitfall to derail his ambitions.

Yet for all the bumps in the road, he’s found his way into an NFL training camp with the Detroit Lions, with a realistic shot to stick based on what he’s shown thus far.

Growing up, Jacobs’ father wasn’t in the picture, and when his mother suddenly passed in 2011 from pneumonia, his upbringing fell on the shoulders of his older sisters, Tomika and Kimberly. Predictably, there was some lashing out by Jerry, the youngest of five siblings.

Despite strong grades, and starring on multiple sports teams in high school, Jacobs fell in with a bad crowd. In 11th grade he got kicked out of school, missing a year of football. Instead of earning a D-I scholarship, he was forced to attend Hutchinson, 14 hours away from his Atlanta home.

Jacobs eventually made his way to Arkansas State, but misfortune outside his control struck again when he suffered a torn ACL in 2019. Then, in 2020, he was on the move once again, this time heading to Arkansas with the hope the bigger stage could provide the necessary exposure to make a run at playing professionally.

He lasted four games before opting out, not because of the pandemic, the reason many other athletes sat out last year, but because he wasn’t in the right mental head space at the school.

It’s a decision he regrets, but one he couldn’t take back. At best, he’s trying to learn from it with his biggest takeaway being the need to seek council from peers and mentors before making such significant life choices.

Still, despite everything, he’s in Lions camp. And on Saturday, it was Jacobs who came up with the team’s first interception through four practices.

“We were playing man and I see my dude run a fade,” Jacobs said. “I was on him so tight that I was able to look back. I looked back and the ball was in the air. I just made a play on the ball. I dreamed about this last night. I was thinking, I could be the first one in camp to have an interception and it came true.”

The play was wildly celebrated by his teammates, and as he soaked in an ice bath outside the team’s facility after practice, several came up and congratulated him a second time. It’s clear he’s managed to become popular in the locker room quickly.

And the player he’s bonded with the most in his first few months with the Lions is Jeff Okudah. The first-round draft pick has taken Jacobs under his wing.

“Jerry is my young bull,” Okudah said. “I think we might be the same age, but he’s still my young bull though. He’s someone that I want to help bring along. I know as a rookie, a rookie cornerback, it’s difficult. It’s something I take personal, trying to help the rookie cornerbacks so that they can avoid some of the things I went through and make their path a little bit easier. It’s already hard enough being a cornerback in this league.”

Every day, after practice, Okudah drives Jacobs home. They often eat out and study film together. Here is a player who Jacobs studied the past few years, now eagerly offering his support.

“A lot of people might think he’s not the type of guy to hang out, but just being around him every day, seeing how humble he is, he doesn’t take anything for granted,” Jacobs said. “Every day, he’s coming out here trying to feed his family. Just seeing that mindset, it makes me more hungry.”

The most important thing Jacobs is taking away from Okudah is to never take a snap off. It’s full speed, all the time for the rookie as he tries to win a job and reward the Lions for taking a chance on him.

“(I’m going to) keep working hard and show them I belong here,” Jacobs said. “I want to show them I deserve this shot, I deserve to be here and they made the best decision giving me a shot as an undrafted player. I’m going to go hard every day and take advantage every time I’m out here.”

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