January 10, 2013 by Alabama A&M Athletics
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Jamaal Johnson-Webb kept ignoring the football coaches at his high school. He wanted to play basketball. He was pretty good, but he was never going to make anybody forget Kobe Bryant.
“My whole family was basketball,” Johnson-Webb said. His father Maurice was good enough to have played briefly at Samford a quarter-century ago.
Then came an epiphany.
“I realized what body type I had,” Johnson-Webb said, “and what my best opportunity was.”
Ben Blacknall, the late former Alabama A&M assistant coach who had a knack for finding lumps of coal with 24-karat diamond potential, saw Johnson-Webb at Mundy’s Mill High school outside of Atlanta. Blacknall urged head coach Anthony Jones to visit.
When Jones got to the Johnson-Webb home, Jamaal stood up.
And kept standing up
And kept standing up.
Jones realized what kind of body type Johnson-Webb had.
“He stood up and he was taller than me,” Jones recalled Thursday. “I liked that. I saw his growth potential.”
Part of the pitch to Johnson-Webb, Jones told him, “In four or five years, you’ll be something special.”
That has happened.
Johnson-Webb has become the first Alabama A&M player ever invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis.
“It’s a great thing for him and a great thing for our school,” said Jones. Currently, two former A&M players, the Colts’ Robert Mathis and the Panthers’ Frank Kearse, are in the NFL. Johnson-Webb has enlisted Mathis’ agent, Hadley Engelhard.
“Four years of hard work and I got better every year,” Johnson-Webb said Thursday afternoon at Louis Crews Stadium. “And now the opportunity is in front of me. It was great news I got when I was invited to the combine. I’m going to go from here and keep working hard and take advantage of my opportunities.”
Johnson-Webb, who started 46 consecutive games for A&M, never played football until his senior season of high school despite the fact “the coaches were always begging me.”
He doesn’t recall any great embarrassing moments from those days. Nothing where he put his shoulder pads on backwards or put the wrong pads in the wrong places in his britches.
Not that any teammate would have been brave enough to razz him had he done so.
“I had to learn how to correctly hit somebody,” he said. “I had to learn the technique part of that.”
The big kid who captured Jones’ attention was nearly 300 pounds then. Much of that was baby fat. He’s now at 315 and carries it immaculately. This is no Buddha-belly.
“For an offensive lineman,” Johnson-Webb said, “I think I’m in great shape.”
Earlier this season, offensive line coach Cedric Pearl noted that “When he got here, he could bench 225 pounds four times. Now, he’s at 22.”
Credit that to James Hester, the Bulldogs’ conditioning coach.
“He’s helped a lot. He showed me conditioning,” Johnson-Webb said. “He got me stronger, the whole nine yards.”
Jones is a former NFL tight end who has a pretty good sense for what it takes to play pro ball.
“It’s not one thing, it’s a combination of things,” Jones said. “He has the size. Size is one of the hardest things to fine. Couple that size with athletic ability and, in their terms, good feet, and long arms, you start working on the whole package. And he’s a good football player.”
And he has a chance for the NFL.
Thinking back to his prediction/sales pitch, Jones said, “He bought into it and worked hard and developed himself.
And,” said Jones, “four and a half years later, he is something special.”
Contact Mark McCarter at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @markmccarter