Two young athletes are flipping the narrative of what an NFL quarterback looks like and does. Patrick Mahomes is the focus of this attention after his Super Bowl win, of course. But the QB who makes this movement clear is a certain powerhouse speedster in Baltimore. Lamar Jackson, the unanimous league MVP of 2019, had to fight to get the attention he deserves.
The 23-year-old went from being a divisive college athlete to an NFL star. At every turn, he was pushed to play a different position, but he stayed the course. Now it’s paying off big, but he still remembers where he came from.
How Lamar Jackson overcame perceptions that he wasn’t fit to play at quarterback
It’s difficult now to square the QB Jackson obviously is with the constant criticism he received at every stage of his development. Even as late as his college days, he and his mother, Felicia Jones, fended off misguided coaches insisting he should play at wide receiver instead. He chose Louisville because they were the only school that promised he’d get his shot at QB.
Bleacher Report explains how this habit persisted through Jackson’s first year in the NFL. There’s long been a sort of coded language referring to black QB prospects in the NFL, saying they are “more physical,” or “best suited to WR.”
Even as Jackson developed as an NFL-level QB, it took a second-year explosion to unanimous league MVP to finally hush up his critics. To get to that point, the man who is now the Ravens’ superstar QB had to stick to a plan that not all of his mentors believed in.
Jackson’s humble roots inform how he plays today
A Sports Illustrated profile revealed key details of Jackson’s rise — in particular, his days playing football at McNair Park in Pompano Beach, Florida. He ended up here because his mom demanded that his youth coaches give him a shot at QB. That’s how they found Van Warren, a youth coach who made a special effort to train young black kids with talent at the position to prove they shouldn’t get moved to wide receiver.
For years, Jackson and Warren trained every Sunday for hours. Other kids got involved in many different positions. But the focus leaned more and more heavily on work at QB, with Jackson emerging as the kind of talent who could pick whatever school he wanted to attend.
Why Jackson continues to visit the park where he grew up
Jackson never put McNair Park in his rearview mirror. A Baltimore Sun report reveals he continues to visit the now-sacred ground regularly. He trains kids personally, using Warren’s complex agility drills with the added touch of an increasingly experienced NFL superstar.
It’s not something Jackson has to do. His stature would be huge in the neighborhood whether he set foot there or not. A nearby street now bears his name. His jerseys, pictures of his most iconic feats so far, all adorn the park. It’s impossible to ignore that this is where Jackson came up.
Yet there he is, hands-on, passing down the gift Warren gave to him. While the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted this year’s plans, details the CBS Local, it still remains close to his heart. Nobody knows better than Jackson that coaches don’t always have your best interests at heart in this game. Sometimes, it takes someone a bit outside the normal structures to push a player to discover exactly who they were meant to be.