Jawan Jamison hopes early start to pro career can help his family

Jamison has plenty of reasons why he wants NFL success. (USATSI)
Jawan Jamison has plenty of reasons why he wants NFL success. (USATSI)

Jawan Jamison’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she told her son just after Christmas last year. Doctors can’t get to the tumor, so she’s on medication that hopefully will help shrink it and keep her out of danger.

But Jamison, the former Rutgers running back who declared for the NFL draft after only his sophomore season and after hearing his mom's diagnosis, decided he would not take any chances. His mother and sisters could use financial help, and he needs to get into the league before he takes too many big hits for free. That’s why he’s headed to the NFL, even though he’s probably a mid-round pick who doesn’t have the thickest of resumes.

His family needs help, and Jamison is ready to provide it.

“It weighs heavily on me. It also makes me work that much harder. That weight makes me work harder,” Jamison told CBSSports.com last month. “I feel like I needed to step up and be the man in the family and take care of her.”

Truthfully, Jamison was thrust into that role when his father was killed in a one-car accident the summer before Jawan left for Rutgers. His mother convinced him that, somehow, everything would be OK and to continue on to school. But, in some ways, that tragedy also transformed Jamison in how he felt about his own future.

And when he twisted his ankle during the 2012 Rutgers campaign and had to miss parts of four games because of it -- he only gained 122 yards in his final four contests of the season while dealing with his injury -- Jamison knew he had to think beyond his college career.

“I got my ankle twisted, and I was thinking about all the hits I had taken,” Jamison said. “I’m getting all this, and I’m not getting paid for it. I’d rather get out when I’m fresh and when I’m really young, and I can get in the NFL and stay in there longer. I can also develop more.”

And make more money?

“And make more money,” he said.

Despite his struggles late in the season, Jamison still managed to rush for 1,075 yards, only the third Scarlet Knights running back to accomplish that feat since 1975. He also managed to make Ravens running back Ray Rice take notice as well.

After the Rutgers spring game last year, Rice approached Jamison and told him that he had impressed Rice with his freshman season (when Jamison had rushed for 897 yards and nine touchdowns). “You got your foot in the door,” Rice told Jamison. “Just work really hard in this next year.”

Throughout the 2012 season, Rice sent Jamison motivational text messages. Once he heard about Jamison’s plans to enter the draft, Rice told him, “Just go with what you feel. If you feel you need to go, go. You can use me as a tool and as a resource.’”

Rice knows the journey on which Jamison is about to embark. Both backs are about 5-foot-8 with similar builds, both hit the 1,000-yard mark while at Rutgers (Rice, in fact, ended his college career with a total of 4,926 yards in three seasons) and both left college early to test out the pro ranks.

That relationship is important to Jamison as he waits for the draft and determines what his future will be. For now, that future is cloudy. He has received a projected third-round grade from the NFL, but NFLDraftScout.com ranks him as the 12th-best running back in the draft and predicts he’ll go in the fourth or fifth round. Writes Rob Rang: “While Jamison's … timed drills are a bit of a concern, he has impressive tape.”

Jamison might have helped himself slightly during his Pro Day, when he ran 40 times of 4.64 and 4.6 (he hit 4.68 at the NFL combine), but he was pleased that his burst in the first 10 yards had improved.

“It’s all about versatility,” Jamison said. “The more you can do, the more they’ll use you. Last season, I tried to display that I could catch the ball out of the backfield, that I could get open in the passing game, that I could run inside, that I can run outside, that I can block. I feel like it got out there.”

Jamison isn’t only thinking about the next month, though. No, the 21-year-old is thinking about the possibilities of a second NFL contract when he’s in his mid-20s and, possibly, a third contract when he has reached NFL running back middle age. Like he said, he wants to get into the league early, stay as late as possible and help provide for his family.

“I’m thinking that far ahead, but I just want to get in there and get my feet wet,” Jamison said. “I just want to get going.”

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