Behind The Scenes With an NFL Draft Prospect

Our exclusive interview with an NFL Draft prospect. Plus: How an undrafted rookie landed a massive contract, and much more.

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Based on recent feedback, I’ve changed up the section order today.

You’ll find this week’s featured story (an exclusive interview with an NFL Draft prospect) at the bottom.

I’m curious to hear if you like the new layout, or if you prefer the old way!

Here’s what’s coming:

  • "My whole life was on the line that year."

  • How an undrafted rookie landed a massive contract

  • Behind the scenes with an NFL Draft prospect who wasn’t invited to the Combine

Let’s dive in 👇

UNDERDOG TRIVIA 🤔

On this day in 1962, slow-motion instant replay made its TV debut during which event?

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TOP STORIES 🗞️

⚾️ Everyone goes through tough times. Yes, even superstar athletes dubbed “The Chosen One” at 16 years old. Read about the “most stressful year” of Bryce Harper’s life. [Joker Mag]

🏀 Your bracket might be busted, but there’s still so much to uncover about the Big Dance. Here are the former D3 players and coaches who are now head coaches in the NCAA Tournament. [D3 Direct]

🏈 “I've been slept on my entire career.” Here’s how LB Bryce Huff went from undrafted rookie to securing a massive contract in free agency. [Owen Boyle @ Philadelphia Eagles]

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Behind The Scenes With An NFL Draft Prospect Who Wasn’t Invited To The Combine

According to the NFL's College Advisory Committee, only 1.6% of NCAA football players ever reach the professional level.

JaKorey Hawkins is determined to join that elite group.

Despite not being invited to the NFL Combine, the University of Wyoming senior cornerback is doing everything he can to land an opportunity at the game's highest level.

I had the opportunity to ask JaKorey a few questions ahead of his Pro Day on March 19th.

Our exclusive interview chronicles his journey from Pop Warner to the brink of the 2024 NFL Draft, and the resilient mentality that's helped him get here.

Quick note: due to email length limits, I had to trim this interview down. You can read the full thing on Joker Mag right here.

What kind of a player were you growing up?

Growing up, I embodied humility, preferring to let my on-field success do the talking rather than being vocal. Among the talented athletes of the league today, I consistently ranked as one of the better players and often outperformed my peers.

Facing off against notable athletes like Cam Britt Taylor, Malik Cunningham, and Justin Ross, I not only held my own but showcased my skills. Teammates like Daniel Thomas and Henry Ruggs were part of my journey, and I encountered explosive opponents, including Cam Newton.

In the face of challenging matchups against 5-star players, my focus remained on excelling in my position and prioritizing victory. Despite consistently outperforming these 5-star athletes, I encountered the narrative of being overlooked and undervalued, being ranked only as a 3-star athlete.

However, I refused to let this define me; instead, it fueled my determination to become not only a great athlete but also a great man.

By the end of high school, you ended up becoming the #2 ranked cornerback in the state of Alabama. How did you evolve as a player from Pop Warner to your senior year of high school?

By the end of high school, I secured the #2 ranking as a cornerback in the state of Alabama, marking a transformative journey from my Pop Warner days to my senior year. Despite earning respect from teammates, I was still undervalued.

Throughout my youth career, characterized by challenges and hard work, my gratitude extends to God, my family, and my ever-supportive dad, my steadfast number one fan. Following every extra workout and each offer received, my immediate response is prayer, acknowledging the divine role in my journey.

The passing of my grandpa at the age of 15 served as a pivotal moment, his words becoming a driving force that propelled me towards the NFL. The significance of my first offer was underscored by his encouragement: "When you get to the NFL, do not forget about me."

Meditating through God, looking up to my older brother Keldric Hawkins, and drawing inspiration from mentors like Tyronne Rogers and Eric were crucial elements of my journey. Maintaining a strong connection with God aids me in navigating challenges and making decisions aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

Learning from others' mistakes, I promised myself a different path.

With offers from big-time schools like Auburn, Penn State, WVU, and many others, what made you decide on Ole Miss? And what was it like playing in the SEC?

The decision to choose Ole Miss was rooted in my Southern upbringing, where football holds significant meaning. Growing up with dreams of playing for Alabama and representing my hometown of Montgomery, I tirelessly worked to build connections and secure an opportunity with Alabama, but it never materialized.

Despite this setback, I persevered, fueling my mindset to work harder and believe in myself.

While other prestigious programs extended offers, I ultimately chose Ole Miss. They were the first SEC school to recognize my potential and offer me a chance to play in the highly respected conference. Loyalty to those who believed in me was a value I held tightly, and Ole Miss embodied that commitment.

In hindsight, I realized that God had different plans for me.

My journey at Ole Miss began as a freshman contributor on special teams, where I started from the front line and viewed each play as an opportunity to prove myself. Patience and perseverance defined my path as I transitioned from safety to nickel and eventually became a starting cornerback.

The experience provided a comprehensive understanding of how safeties, cornerbacks, and slot players approach the game, particularly in the competitive SEC.

Playing in the SEC was a transformative experience. Each week presented the challenge of facing powerful opponents, including future NFL players. From adapting to the fastest and tallest high school receivers to learning from mentors like Terrell Buckley, who emphasized the mental aspects of the game, I honed my skills and navigated diverse playing styles and formations.

Buckley's guidance during my transition to cornerback – focusing on understanding formations and analyzing opponents' strategies – was invaluable. This knowledge became a cornerstone of my approach as I tackled the challenges of the SEC, consistently preparing for the next level.

The weekly challenges in the SEC reinforced my confidence that I could compete at the highest level, laying the foundation for my journey beyond.

After transferring to the University of Wyoming in 2022, you joined a Cowboys program with a lineage full of NFL defensive backs (Derrick Martin, Tashuan Gipson, Marcus Epps, and more).

How would you describe your experience in Laramie? And how did it prepare you for the NFL?

My time at the University of Wyoming was instrumental in my NFL preparation. Transitioning from the SEC to Wyoming brought unique challenges, notably the substantial increase in altitude to 7000 feet.

Determined to be ready for any situation, I confronted adversity, drawing strength from my faith and emerging even more resilient.

Playing in diverse atmospheres, from Denver to Wyoming, without room for excuses, polished my mental preparedness for the unpredictable challenges of the NFL. The coaches at Wyoming instilled in me an old-school football approach, breaking down the game to its basics and refining my defensive skills.

Having competed against the most dominant players in the SEC, I recognized the opportunity to further shape my abilities in different weather environments, locations, and a distinct part of the country. This decision to move away from the South, my family, and familiar culture was a deliberate step to elevate myself and become a better man.

Inspired by the NFL success stories of those who paved the way, I seized the opportunity to make history and leave a lasting impact on the program that gave me a chance to play the game I love.

A significant achievement was becoming the first player to block and return a 47-yard field goal attempt, marking the first blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in Wyoming history.

I crafted my unique journey and established a name for myself in the loyal Wyoming community—an experience I wouldn't have encountered elsewhere. Despite the challenges, I trusted my instincts, anchored by my faith in God, and successfully etched out my own legacy at Wyoming.

Adversity has been a shaping force in defining who I am. Confronting challenges head-on reveals our true selves, and I always held onto the understanding that genuine character emerges in times of hardship—a lesson especially coming from Montgomery, Alabama.

Despite not receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine, with your work ethic those who know you are confident you’ll get a chance in the league.  What will an NFL organization be getting from you?

Despite not receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine, I am confident that I'll get a chance in the league, given my work ethic.

An NFL organization would be getting a player with a positive leadership style, sporting a winning mindset aspiring to lead any team to the Super Bowl. My loyalty is unwavering, not just to the organization but also to myself. As an old soul, I'm ready to be inspired by older athletes and seek wisdom from their experiences.

My ambition is clear – I strive to become the best cornerback in the league, prioritizing personal excellence over comparisons with others. Inspired by undrafted success stories, I view being overlooked as a motivational force, driving me to work relentlessly.

The lack of a Combine invite only intensifies my hunger for success, motivating me to prove doubters wrong and showcase my capabilities. I perceive my journey as more meaningful due to overcoming challenges, believing that my on-field performance will speak volumes.

In addition to my mental tenacity, I possess a diverse skill set, including top-tier vertical jumps, speed, explosiveness, quickness, and resilience. Embracing a "mamba mentality," I play the game with confidence, hunger, and purpose.

My journey serves as an inspiration for others to reach their best selves. I approach every opportunity with gratitude and I am committed to doing whatever it takes to get the job done and contribute to team success.

How can our readers support you?

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Twitter: jhawk_7_

Editor's Note: Big thanks to JaKorey and his team for sharing their time with us!

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⭐ Trivia Answer:

B) Welterweight Boxing Championship – Benny Paret vs. Emile Griffith III was notable for being the first use of slow-motion instant replay. But the fight is remembered for a different reason and was the basis of the 2005 documentary Ring of Fire.

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