By John Torenli
It was almost one year ago today, last April 29 to be exact, that Jaiquan Jarrett’s phone rang in his Bedford-Stuyvesant home.
The incoming call from Philadelphia changed the former Fort Hamilton High School football star’s life as the Eagles informed him that he would be their second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft following a standout career at Temple University.
Jarrett, who spearheaded Bay Ridge’s Tigers to back-to-back Public School Athletic League championships in 2005-06 before emerging as one of the nation’s fiercest, hardest-hitting safeties with the Owls, was ready to strut his stuff in the league where they pay for play.
Even Eagles head coach Andy Reid was gushing over the 6-foot, 196-pound hitting machine, raising expectations that Jarrett could be the next Brian Dawkins, the recently retired safety who patrolled the defensive backfield in the City of Brotherly Love for a dozen of his 15 NFL seasons.
“You’re getting a very explosive hitter,” Reid said of the 54th overall pick in the draft. “When you talk about people who can come up and smack you, he’ll come up and smack you.”
One year later, on the eve of tonight’s second round of the 2012 Draft at Radio City Music Hall, Jarrett finds himself in a precarious position, worrying about the Eagles picking his replacement.
Jarrett never could quite crack the opening lineup during his rookie campaign, except for a fill-in assignment for injured starter Nate Allen in November and a look-see start in the season finale as Philadelphia’s alleged “Dream Team” stumbled to an 8-8 non-playoff finish.
Ultimately, 17 tackles in eight games amounted to a less-than-stellar NFL debut, but it was also one cut short by the offseason lockout, costing the neophyte valuable time in his preseason training program and adaptation to the team’s defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Juan Castillo.
After starring in high school and college, Jarrett found himself learning on the fly at the pro level.
“It was a tough challenge,” Fort Hamilton head coach Daniel Perez told the Eagle of Jarrett’s trial-by-fire first season earlier this week. “Last year hurt with the lockout, but I told him that this year he doesn’t have any excuses.”
“I learned a lot,” admitted Jarrett in an interview posted on the Eagles’ official website. “It was a great feeling getting out there, trying to perform to the best of my ability on special teams. I think I did a good job for being in there for the first time but there’s always room for improvement.”
Perez, who was Jarrett’s defensive coordinator during his years at Fort Hamilton, revealed that the ex-Tiger visited his alma mater two weeks ago, utilizing the Bay Ridge school’s weight room in his ongoing quest to prepare for next season.
“I was busting his chops, saying that the draft is coming up and [the Eagles] are gonna find someone to replace him,” Perez recalled.
Steeled by his mother Audrey, a tough-as-nails corrections officer at Rikers Island for the past 22 years, and the mentoring hand of his stepfather Jeff, Jarrett is reportedly raring and ready to make an impact in year two.
Even if he does have to watch his back with the Eagles looking for safety help over the weekend.
“You’re always going to get frustrated not being out there,” Jarrett admitted. “You always want to be out there to help. I think when I’m called upon I’ll be able to play at a high level. … It’s been a nice little journey. You always want to start fast, but it’s about rebounding and finishing strong.”
Alabama safety Mark Barron’s name had been mentioned as a potential selection for Philadelphia in Thursday night’s opening round with the 15th overall pick. That would put even more heat on Jarrett to justify his second-round status during training camp.
According to Perez, however, Jarrett’s work ethic and commitment are unquestionable. As is his desire to soar to greatness in the Eagles’ secondary.
“He definitely has what it takes to improve,” the coach insisted.