Pendleton Brings His Lesson to Jax
By BJ Bennett
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Jeris Pendleton brings a new dynamic to J-Ville. His story, a lesson of volition, comes with him; it's a charge for fan and athlete alike. It's a tale of which young recruits should take note.
The goal, honest and steadfast, was a college education and the opportunities that follow. With two young children to support, former high school football star Jeris Pendleton had reached a point where his bills were simply becoming too tough to tackle. Jobs as a housekeeper at a nursing home, a construction worker and security guard at a hospital helped he and his family get by. Pendleton decided that, however, was no longer enough. He wasn't quite sure what the future held, but he knew commitment and dedication could soon have progress within his grasp.
Football had once been what defined this Chicago-native, his skills nearly taking him to Michigan State out of Dunbar High School before some family matters forced a change of plans. Instead of chasing down ball-carriers, Pendleton spent his early 20s chasing around mounting debt and, more importantly, two small sons. Life had hit the one-time near-Spartan with a running start; even at the size of a lineman, Pendleton was left staggering.
To better his family's situation, the man of the house had to first better himself.
"Out of school, I had my first son Jeris, Jr. and I was with my fiancee. It was hard for us and I needed to go ahead and do something. I worked at a nursing home just trying to provide. I ended up working construction doing HVAC. I went on to looking into getting my armed license and doing armed security at the hospital in Chicago. I had my second son by then and we were still struggling, it was paycheck to paycheck, we didn't have enough money to live comfortably," Pendleton recalled. "I decided I needed to go ahead and go back to school and start working towards my degree so I could earn a better living for my family."
Pendleton enrolled at Joliet Junior College with the hopes of ultimately working towards a four-year degree and, after getting his bearings, playing football once again. Despite the fact that he was recruited by major programs out of high school and had the size of some professional football players, Pendleton wasn't just handed pads and a helmet along with his campus guide. Even a frame of 6'2'', 328 pounds wasn't quite enough to immediately earn him a roster spot.
"I went ahead and walked on at Joliet. I told the coach since I was enrolling in college that I wanted to go ahead and try to fulfill my dream. I asked him if I could play for the team and he told me workouts were on a certain day. I came on that day, made the team and ended up starting for two years," Pendleton remembered. "I got noticed at Ashland University, got offered a scholarship and it led to this right here."
The recent NFL Draft pick views his time walking-on at Joliet Junior College as a critical point in his athletic and personal progression.
"I was a humble guy in the beginning. Going to junior college...whatever is going to come to you, God has a plan for everybody. It wasn't like I got down because I had to go to a junior college, I had to start somewhere. You have to crawl before you can walk," Pendleton added.
Ashland University, a 6,500-student private school in Ashland, Ohio, offered Pendleton a chance to continue his education and an opportunity to play NCAA football. The Eagles are a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and compete at the Division II level. Prior to Pendleton's selection, Bill Overmyer, Tim Seder and Walt Williams were the only football players from the school to play in the NFL since the Great Depression. Williams started at Ashland before transferring to New Mexico State.
Pendleton continued to work in the classroom and continued to develop on the football field. He settled in along the interior of the Eagle defensive line after excelling years ago as a tight end and linebacker in high school. He first season at Ashland he recorded 35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. As a senior, his production improved: 49 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and one forced fumble. Pendleton received all-conference honors for his efforts.
A number of scouts noted that improvement, along with the rare athleticism for a lineman pushing 330 pounds, and expect Pendleton to continue to get better as he learns more of the subtle nuances that come with his position. Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith talked of how his 7th round selection fit the mold of a player with rare genetics who showed dominant traits. Simply put, the Jaguars like Pendleton's upside.
"To even receive a call like that actually telling me I was going to get drafted, it was an indescribable feeling," he exclaimed. "The process of going back to school and playing ball again, I knew it would open up new opportunities but I never knew it would be this big."
In addition to selecting an intriguing talent with a high ceiling, Jacksonville brings a tested 28-year old man to their locker room. Pendleton, through his trials and tribulations, has seen life through a dim and dusty windshield. He doesn't enter the NFL with his eyes wide open or delusions of grandeur; Pendleton isn't taking his time to look at the bright lights, his focus is set straight ahead.
"It makes you appreciate it a little bit more, I think," he said, of his age and life experiences. Coming from a maturity standpoint, it makes you think right back to the hard times and what you went through, the perseverance and all the hard work and dedication. You refuse to let it go down the drain again. You are going to continue to work hard and continue to be determined to achieve good things because as quick as you get it, it can be taken away. I think young guys probably take that for granted because they have a whole lot of time in front of them. Me, my time is limited so I have to take advantage of every opportunity."
As Pendleton took a few moments over the weekend to reflect on his accomplishments and think about how far he has come, he may have spent more time thinking about his personal team than his professional one.
"My mother, my father, they have both been very supportive. If it wasn't financially, just the words of 'keep pushing' and 'keep striving for great things'. That goes a long way. My brother, he has been there throughout the whole process. I met some great people down here at Ashland. There have been a lot, my teammates, my fiance," he explained. "She has been a whole hell of a lot of help. She just stuck by me. She had to work and take care of the bills. I owe everything to her. Everyone has helped me out, but she has been my backbone. A plane can't fly without two wings, she has been that other wing."
With his football career coming full circle, Pendleton thought about two more constants in both his past and future.
"They are the reason why I am working as hard as I am working," he said of his two sons. "I love the game of football and there are a lot of guys that have been through the same thing, they love the game of football. At a point, football is going to come to an end. Those guys, I just want them to know as they are coming up in life, times are going to get hard and times are going to get rough. At the same time, you don't want to be a guy that said 'I should've, could've, would've'. You want to go ahead and live up to your expectations. If you have your mind set on something, it's achievable. You got to work for it to get it though."
At 6'2'', 328 pounds and 28 years of age, Pendleton brings a new dynamic to Jacksonville. His story, a lesson of volition, comes to north Florida with him; it's a charge for fan and athlete alike. Tough and reselient off the field, the new-Jaguar believes those traits help him on the football field as well. He will look to join a front line rotation that will be tasked with slowing the likes of All-Pro tailbacks Arian Foster and Chris Johnson this fall. Jacksonville ranked ninth in the league in rush defense a year ago.
"They can definitely expect a guy who is going to hold his ground in the middle. I'm a run-stuffer, I think that is what I specialize in, stopping the run. I'm going to take up some blocks and shut down the run game. Hopefully I can elevate my game with the knowledge of Spicer, Coach Cullen and Coach Tucker and elevate it to learning some pass rush moves. Hopefully I can bring some pass rush to the game, but I know that I will be able to stop the run," he concluded.
After misfortune and missteps nearly forced this father's hand, Pendleton will soon suit up in an NFL uniform for mini-camp. In returning to school and working through adversity in pursuit of opportunity, Pendleton learned the power of persistence. Time, circumstance and the insight of educators have all been his teachers. In different ways and through different parameters, their lessons have all been the same.