Words: Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins

Photos: @illgander

“The Ones” celebrates a new generation of defiant, talented individuals. Click here for more stories about the cast.


Flashback to April 28, 2016. It’s the night of the NFL Draft. A packed room of soon-to-be pro athletes sit at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre with anxious friends and family members, savvy agents, league and team staffers and an army of expressive football fans. Somewhere in that sea of people is 21-year-old Jalen Ramsey, who’s fresh out of college and ready to wreak havoc on the league.

Unfortunately, he had to wait for his name to be called, but let’s be clear. He only had to wait four spots and was the official number five pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. For most people walking the Earth, simply making the cut is a dream come true, yet for Jalen, anything but number one is something he won’t settle for. I’m willing to make this proclamation after spending only a brief amount of time with him, posted up at a basketball court in downtown New York City for today’s shoot with Jordan Brand.

When I pull up, Jalen and the crew are already shooting his second ‘fit — a black, red and white sweatsuit with all black AJ1s. As the team adjusts the set, Jalen breaks away to finish an in-progress game of H-O-R-S-E. Despite being known for his prowess as a cornerback, he clearly has some skill on the court, as well. With each shot made, I see a slick grin paired with determination — something I can’t normally see when watching him play with his helmet on. In that quick moment, I’m reminded that Jalen is very, very competitive and just as focused off the field as he is on it.


 

You’ve always played football, but before you were in the NFL, what were your expectations?

It was always a dream, of course. As I got older, I started to visualize it in my head. During my last two years of college, I really started to see that I’d be going to the league one day.

During my junior year, I was thinking, “I can’t wait to leave. I’m going to leave early to play in the league.” I knew I was going to leave early from the jump. I was thinking that it was going to be the same thing as college but with a higher level of competition and passion.

A lot of people have been through the same struggles with football as I have. I thought it was going to be a grind — a dog fight every game. I thought the league was really about to turn up.

First and foremost, it’s a business more than anything. On top of that, you see a select few guys, oftentimes the NFL’s elite, who play with a lot of passion and heart. You can tell who’s really out there trying to get it. There isn’t always the passion that there was in college. The goal that drove you in college was, “I still have to make it to the league.”

“I want to win.”

Yeah, “I want to win!” I want to win, I want to show the NFL scouts what I can do. There’s another level I still want to achieve. In the NFL, there are some people whose only end goal was to make it into the league, not exactly to be the best.

As a fan, the NFL feels really structured.

It’s very structured. In the league, you have to decide what your goals are and how to accomplish them differently, in order to set yourself apart.

You have to go in there with the same mindset you had in college. As a freshman in college you go in to take somebody’s spot. As soon as I got drafted, I thought, “Who were their starting corners last year? I have to take one of their spots.”

I fight for it. Of course, there’s only so much you can do. You still have to watch what you do and watch what you say. There’s a lot that comes with being a professional.

Once I’m out on that field, anything goes, to a certain extent. You’ve got to find your edge — how you’re different from everybody else, especially if you want to be the best to play the game.

How would you define your style of play?

My style of play is different than any other corner playing today. I’m the next evolution of DB in the NFL. That’s why they call me 2.0. I do my thing early and often, make my presence known and change the whole culture. That’s how I’m trying to do it in Jacksonville. I want our team to have that gritty, aggressive, physical, primetime-type of mindset.

I feel like you do play to win, and it’s not just when you’re on the field. You can see your energy after the game, on the sidelines. Do you think that’s necessary for what you do?

100%. As a young guy trying to cement myself in the league as one of the greats, and trying to help change the culture around in Jacksonville, I like being the villain. I like being the bad guy. I like being the guy that nobody really likes. Not many fans like me, but I love it. I want your receivers to hate me, and I want your coaches to hate me, because I’m about to let you know what’s up.

From play one to postgame interviews, I’m about to let you know what’s up. I’m in it to earn my respect. Y’all might not like me, but at the end of the day, I know y’all are going to respect me.


Respect is big for Jalen. He already has a high level of confidence and the game to back it up. For him, it’s not enough to compete and outdo his opponents. He wants everyone else to know that he will outwork anyone. He wants to stand out. That includes his partnership with Jordan, which is something he takes seriously.


 

How does Jordan Brand fit into that?

When you’re selected to be a Jordan Brand athlete, that’s just something you don’t pass up. We’re going to wear those Jumpman socks on the field every Sunday. We’re going to wear the sleeves. We’re going to wear the retros. We’re going to wear different colors. We’re going to turn it up — pregame and during the game. We’re doing it in a different way.

What’s been the biggest evolution that you’ve noticed within yourself?

My passion hasn’t changed, but it’s grown for the better. For a while, it was my dream to make it into the NFL. Then I did it. Around Draft time, I wanted to be top 10. Then I started hearing that I was going to be top 10.

Your dreams get so big that sometimes that they scare people. If you believe in yourself that much, your dreams should scare you, too. Other people just won’t understand. I’m always pushing myself to do stuff that people say I can’t do.

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