Agnew gathers accolades and attention from NFL
The ball is snapped, and suddenly everything is a blur of motion. Bodies battle for position along the line of scrimmage. Receivers streak and spiral down the field as the quarterback scans for the open man.
The ball is in the air, headed your direction, and you jostle for position as both sidelines tense in anticipation. You leave your feet, stretching your arms skyward, and the ball settles against your fingertips as you crash back to Earth. 80,000 fans rise to their feet to celebrate the game-clinching interception, and chants of your name rain down on the stadium grass.
For every young football player, the above depicts a childhood dream that will forever remain that — just a dream. Very few athletes actually have the chance to chase such lofty aspirations of playing professionally. Even fewer are able to do so after graduating from a non-scholarship program that plays in front of fewer than a thousand fans on most Saturdays.
The University of San Diego’s Jamal Agnew is a worthy exception to the rule.
Born and raised in San Diego, Agnew has parlayed a standout preparatory career at nearby Point Loma High School into a record-setting run as a Torero. Agnew is on the brink of joining the NFL ranks this spring. In a recent interview with The USD Vista, Agnew spoke about his football journey.
“Nothing can compare to it,” Agnew said. “I was recruited by Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo as well coming out of high school, and it came down to deciding between there and [USD]. Having the chance to get a great education in my hometown and to play in front of my family and friends every weekend was something I couldn’t pass up though.”
Agnew was the Toreros’ Defensive MVP last season and will graduate as the school’s career leader in passes defensed. Despite the individual success that has come during his time in Alcalá Park, Agnew says the best moment of college for him was winning the team’s playoff game against Cal Poly this past fall. The win was the first postseason victory in school history, as well as the first playoff win by a non-scholarship school over a scholarship program in Football Championship Series history.
“That was an unbelievable feeling,” Agnew said. “Going into that game, we had no doubt that we could win, but the odds were stacked against us and a lot of people counted us out. Seeing Cal Poly celebrate when they found out they would get to play us really got us thinking that there was no way we would lose to them.”
The Toreros’ season came to an end the next weekend against a powerhouse North Dakota State University squad. Agnew’s journey to the pros, however, appeared to just be getting under way. The cornerback received an invite to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Collegiate Bowl in January, allowing him to showcase his skills against other top talents.
“That was a great experience,” said Agnew. “There were a lot of kids there who were on full-ride scholarships at schools like Wisconsin and Louisiana State. Despite that, though, once we got on the field, the competition wasn’t really any different. They strap up their pads and tie their cleats the same way I do.”
That attitude allowed Agnew to put his talent on full display the week of the game, playing well in practice sessions before coming down with an interception during the game. The impressive performance should help boost the hometown kid’s regard among NFL scouts, especially those who may struggle to look past the small school reputation of San Diego.
“Right now, I’m probably looking at getting picked toward the end of the draft or signing as a priority free agent,” Agnew said. “Some coaches said my performance in the NFLPA Bowl helped that though. Scouts are there every day of practice, seeing how you compete and move and learn. Those practices are where players like [me] need to make our money. Fortunately, I played well there and that showed out in the game.”
While Agnew did not receive an invitation to next week’s official NFL combine in Indianapolis, the NFLPA bowl will be far from the last time Agnew gets to show talent evaluators what he’s got.
“Me and Jereke [Armstrong] are the only ones training here on campus, and the school’s really helping both of us get ready for the draft,” Agnew said. “We get to lift with Coach [Mark] Lamb for free, and he really knows his stuff and has coached people in the league before. The school’s also hosting a pro day for us in March to let us get in front of scouts again.”
Armstrong and Agnew will be joined at the March 23 pro day by a handful of fellow seniors, including running back Jonah Hodges, wideout Brian Riley, and cornerback Devyn Bryant.
For that opportunity and many others that have come during his time as a Torero, Agnew has one man to thank: his head coach.
“Coach Lindsay has definitely been the most impactful person for my career,” Agnew said. “I’ve leaned on him a lot these past four years, just relying on all of his wisdom and experience. Hearing stories like how his locker used to be right next to [Hall of Famer] Jim Brown’s has really motivated me to chase a chance to have stories like that too when I’m older and to be one of those guys someday.”
By the night of the NFL draft this April, Alcalá Park’s Jamal Agnew could be on his way to a great story of his own, joining the select group of Torero alumni to pursue an NFL career. More than that, the cornerback’s sights could be firmly set on the fulfillment of a dream that’s been developing since his Pop Warner days here in America’s Finest City.
Written by Noah Hilton, Asst. Sports Editor