My purpose is helping others and my passion is playing the game I love. The journey I am walking is for those who will come after me, once I have cleared a path. My journey will open doors for others in my industry by giving opportunities to those who have done the right things in life but who have received the short end of the stick. Some will say, “Nice guys finishes last,” but I am here to change that narrative and give hope.
I began pushing my story to the public in 2019, and it has led me to speaking not only throughout the United States (U.S.) but also internationally., This is the Pre-K kid who chose not to play in the sprinklers with my classmates at school because his friend’s parents did not send him changing clothes. This is the same kid in middle school who gave his friend t-shirts and washed his clothes so his friend wouldn’t get picked on. This is the same high schooler who received scholarship offers all over the U.S., and gave his teammates questionnaires to fill out for Universities in order to advertise them to schools so that they could get an opportunity, too. Now, I am the man who is using his trials to encourage others to stay the course and remain optimistic.
My Freshman year in college, I earned 3.0 and up GPA awards off the field but on the field I suffered heat exhaustion and two swollen kidneys. Sophomore year, I learned how to take care of my body and became a student of the game by starting my day studying film and working positional fundamentals at 5:00 am before my 8:00 am classes. In fall camp, I was second team safety, leading the team in interceptions. All I remember from the last week of camp and throughout the season is getting cussed out nearly every practice by the Defensive Coordinator and Head Coach, as if the two were in competition for who could take their anger out on me the most. Then I was kicked to the curve to play linebacker and placed behind the walk-ons in reps. At the end of the season, I transferred to another Division I University.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, I had to Red-Shirt and sit out my Junior year. By the time I graduated to my senior year (academia), the coach I was recruited by left to for another school and my experience became a living Hell! I had a great spring, winning an award for the Most Improved. However, during that time, the secondary coach comes to me and says, “I’m going to break you. You will play how I want you to play.” I started 8 out 12 games, but I never finished a full game. However, I finished with 74 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 force fumble, 1 fumble recovery and no end of the year recognition but guys with less stats from other teams received All- Conference recognitions. Evidently, having a coach that fails to support his players plays a role in earning end of the year accolades.
I decided to forgo my last year of eligibility for three reasons: (1), after my father nearly died in the stands at my first game, I spent the majority of my night in the hospital with my mother and father. I tried getting sleep in my apartment because I had football practice the next day. As we are practicing and doing conditioning, the head coach puts me out in front of the team during conditioning and says, “You should have went to sleep last night.” He knew what was happening with my father. (2), I felt I had the opportunity to help my family by going to the NFL draft. (3), I had the defensive coordinator and secondary coach voting me as the weakest link before games, belittling me after even after I received the Sun Belt Player of The Week. All the while, the head coach turned the other way. I knew my time was done there, so I dropped out of school with nine hours left and learned that my major was changed without me knowing
As I self-prepared for the NFL, I had an awesome Pro-Day. Along with an exceptional overall performance, I blazed through the 40 - Yard Dashes, which were laser timed at 4.31 and 4.38; Mike Mayock, former NFL network analyst and current Las Vegas Raiders General Manager, spoke 45 – 60 secs about me on live television recapping my standout performance. However, after getting calls leading up to the draft and on draft day, I did not get a call saying I had been drafted. I accepted the Free Agent route and began to bet on myself. I got a job at Wal-Mart, slept in my car for extra hours, and worked out on the clock to stay ready for my call. I didn’t have an agent, so being determined, I wrote letters to NFL Franchises to get an opportunity. My opportunity came with the Buffalo Bills, who signed me during the off-season. One of the scouts there told me, “We thought you would’ve been drafted, but you were thrown under bus.”
I got to the Bills and did better than they expected. During Training Camp, I went from seventh safety on the depth chart, to second team safety; I went from fighting for first team and then suddenly, I was cut. Without an agent to speak on my behalf, I had to take alternative routes. Since then, have I signed and negotiated 11 more professional contracts with the Canadian Football League (CFL), Indoor Football League (IFL), National Arena League (NAL), Arena Football League (AFL) and 2020 XFL Supplementary Draft.
During my ambitious signings, I paid out of packet to finish my Bachelor of Science Degree and started my business, Make Adjustments Delete Excuses Incorporated (M.A.D.E.). Then, my Father passed in 2018 after fighting a long battle with lung disease from an asbestos explosion. A few months later, my Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, she survived, beating breast cancer in the summer of 2019.
I lost friends whom I felt were like brothers throughout my journey to the NFL. I was dishonored as a Godfather to a little boy because the mother said, “You don’t have any money; you’re too broke.” Many people, including family members whom I assumed were in my corner, faded away the harder the wind blew. Those who told me if I ever needed anything to reach out – well, I reached out on multiple occasions and found that the hand was never there. I worked at places where the owners did not want to pay me for my skills and services managing the gym, recruiting clientele, marketing, and training interested customers. I have been called racial slurs by my boss and the Human Resource Department did nothing to him.
I will always be grateful for what my parents instilled in me: to have a backbone and faith. I thank my coach of the Indoor Football League Coach Dixie Wooten, who has become family to me and Coach Donnie Henderson, former Buffalo Bills Secondary. Coach Henderson told me I belong in the NFL and to keep hustling to get back.
I used to be ashamed of my failures, the delays, the heartbreaks, and the suffering. Now, I know my mess is a message, my test is a testimony and my purpose is bigger than I. I am on a mission to create a path of opportunities for the “Nice Guys.” My journey has brought my wife, Brigét Harley, and I together in matrimony on May 25th, 2019. It has helped me realize that if you stay the course and keep believing that you are possible, you will eventually tap into your inner greatness and become what your doubters never spoke of you becoming.
Peace and blessings to all!
Jajuan Michael Harley