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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Jeremy Jarmon, newly hired as the director of player relations for the University of Kentucky football team, sits in his new office at the Nutter Training Center, reflecting on his time as a football player at UK. The favorite games, the cherished memories, the mistakes made – all bring about different facial expressions and different recollections from Jarmon.
But one mistake stands out above all else. It is the one negative that Jarmon is remembered for during his time at UK.
Down his face glides a single tear, which he quickly brushes away and apologizes for.
“It’s hard,” he says.
What he is remembering, of course, is the day he was told he would not be allowed to play his senior year at UK because he used an over-the-counter, NCAA-banned substance as a dietary supplement. Jarmon was forced to enter the NFL supplemental draft, where he went to the Washington Redskins, thus beginning a short professional football career hampered by injuries.
Now, Jarmon has retired from the NFL and joined the staff at UK, where he can use his experiences, both positive and negative, to help the next batch of Wildcats in football and in life.
“I made enough decisions that were good and bad throughout my life… I just feel like it was fate for me to be in a position like this where I can share my experiences and relate to these guys,” he said.
As Jarmon is explaining his new duties, the stillness of the office is interrupted by the ping of a cell phone. Looking down, he says, “That was my phone going off there…one of the guys texting me trying to get another one of his teammates’ numbers because he’s trying to get in touch with him for some lab or something.”
It is these little things that are part of Jarmon’s job description at UK, but his responsibility as a whole is not so tiny. Whether it’s distributing teammates’ phone numbers, encouraging players to get involved on campus or contacting the chief of police about a potential legal issue, Jarmon plays a crucial role in the players’ lives off the football field.
“The coaches have so much time invested in the schematics of preparing the players to win on Saturdays, but I get a chance to sit down and really check these guys’ pulse and learn about them,” he said. “And I’m like a big brother. I know when the guys need some tough love, and I know when they just need me to hug them.”
It’s easier for the current crop of UK football players to consider Jarmon a “big brother” since he is not far removed from his own time as a member of the team. It is a special situation, yet one that is becoming less and less unique at the University of Kentucky. Jarmon is the most recent in a long line of former players who have joined the football program’s staff, including Jarmon’s former teammates, Andre’ Woodson and Braxton Kelley. Bringing these former players back to Lexington, whether as staff members of visitors, is now a focus of UK’s, and especially one of head coach Joker Phillips.
“They (former players) have been coming back for our practices,” he said. “They’re taking a lunch break to swing by, or sneaking away from their wife to come watch football practice on the weekend…These are our guys, this is our fraternity. And when you have your fraternity of guys that are on board with you, you’ve got your brothers backing you up, it makes you feel good.”
Part of building that “fraternity” within the UK football program begins with recruiting – something that Jarmon credits Phillips with doing in the right way.
“When a coach comes back from a visit, at the staff meeting, he’ll say, ‘This guy, he’s this, and he scored three times last night.’ First question Coach Phillips has asked consistently is, ‘What kind of guy is he?’” Jarmon said. “That is his trademark question in those meetings. For him, it’s about winning but it’s about winning with the right guys.”
Once those recruits make it to Lexington, it is now Jarmon’s duty to keep them happy and involved at UK. What Jarmon cites as the reasoning behind his position’s creation is the disappearance of UK’s 2009 recruiting class. Out of the 16 three-star recruits Rich Brooks signed in his last class as UK coach, only five remain. While the vanishing of the ’09 recruiting class can be attributed to many factors (academics, Brian Adams choosing baseball, injuries, legal issues), Jarmon offered another explanation.
“Inside these walls, there’s not anyone lukewarm about what we’re doing. And anyone that’s lukewarm, I think Coach Phillips will be the first one to show them the exit…and the players that have not been hot about Kentucky football, they’ve either had problems academically, or they’ve been over-recruited and they decided to transfer,” he said. “That’s what happens when your program starts to turn the corner, you start seeing guys transfer because they know the guy coming in from high school is better than he is…That’s not a very bad problem to have.”
Regardless of how the ’09 recruiting class got to where it is now, the fact remains that UK wants to avoid similar situations in the future. That is what Jarmon is for – to lead incoming recruits into their Lexington lives and to be there for them when that life gets tough. The time he spent involved on UK’s campus, the relationships he built with UK administration during his NCAA troubles, and the tears he has shed over the loss of his final season have built Jarmon into the kind of inspirational figure that current players can go to.
Whether it is for help with a legal issue or a girlfriend problem, for a phone number or a hug, players already feel comfortable going to Jarmon.
“I’ve had a few guys just stop by to thank me,” he said. “They come by just to say, ‘thanks for helping us out.’”
And that’s just what a big brother is for.
Vaught’s note: Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart discussed a variety of subjects with Guy Ramsey of Cat Scratches for ukathletics.com. Here are some of the highlights I thought you would find interesting.
CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar?
Barnhart: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that’s what we’re going to have to do this year. We’re going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren’t giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you’re going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You’re going to have to believe in one another. We’re going to have to have some things go our way. We’ve got to stay a little bit injury-free and we’ve got to stay clear of that. And we’ve got to be able to go out and perform.
We’ve got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we’ve got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That’s the first step. I’d agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we’ve got to go out and prove that.
CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football’s home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day?
MB: You’ve got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We’ve got a unique set of alumni – probably a different alumni base than most programs have – an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it’s growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.
I’ve always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.
CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important?
MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre’ Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You’ve got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari’s UK staff).
Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren’t a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that’s very helpful to us.
By LARRY VAUGHT
SIMPSONVILLE — Jeremy Jarmon started 31 games during his three-year playing career at the University of Kentucky and earned all-Southeastern Conference honors his junior year when he had 38 tackles, including 10 for a loss and 4.5 quarterback sacks.
The Tennessee native had his UK career cut short when he tested positive for a banned supplement he purchased as an over the counter dietary aid at a Lexington nutrition store and the NCAA suspended him for his senior year. He entered the NFL supplemental draft and was taken with a third round pick by the Washington Redskins. He spent two years in Washington before being traded to Denver and later cut from the team.
Now he’s retired from the NFL and recently became director of player relations for the UK football team under coach Joker Phillips. He was in Simpsonville Thursday for the Governor’s Cup press conference promoting the UK-Louisville game Sept. 2 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Question: Does your new job include duties where you might be out speaking and spreading the word about UK football?
Jarmon: “That is something pending the direction they see me going. That is something I can’t rule out if they want to use me in that kind of role. It is something I would definitely embrace. For the time being, I am just do the things they ask me to do and if and when that opportunity presents itself, I will take it.”
Question: Wouldn’t it be good for Kentucky to have a person like yourself available during the season to talk to fans and sell UK football?
Jarmon: “I believe in UK football not only because I played here and was part of it, but because I did have success. I saw how close we were. A couple of players away, couple of injuries here and there that prevented us from having a couple more upsets. And a couple more upsets, you are talking BCS bowl game. To get a taste and experiences I had, particularly in those 2007-08 season, I just knew how close we were. That is the message that I have. UK football is not as far off as some people think. We had a graduating class that all they saw was bowl games in four years. That is the start of building tradition. When you can look at say every December or every January you are going to a bowl game, that is special. That is what we are trying to do and get back on board that ship to where we are going to bowl games on a consistent basis and then you build from there.”
Question: With all the possible career directions you talked about maybe going during your UK playing career, what has you back in football in an administrative role?
Jarmon: “You are not remembering wrong. I have always been interested in a lot of different things. What path and what route I wanted to go down, I didn’t know. I am interested in politics. I was a political science major. I was interested in the military, but I didn’t go join the Marines like I thought I would when I was in high school. I was in the Thespian Honor Society. I don’t plan on going down the road of being an actor any time soon.
“Being here at UK and being in the NFL for three years, I really became fascinated by the front office aspect of running a football team or organization. As I got to know people here at UK as well as Washington and the contacts I still have at Denver, it just seemed like the way I kind of bonded with those kind of people was a natural fit for me. Here at UK is a great start for me in this position and role. I am really going to try and bring the community and campus a little closer with UK football and help put our message out there and help build our players into even higher character individuals to where they have good interaction with the community, teachers and different department personnel.”
Question: Do you sense this could be a better season than many analysts/fans are expecting based on what you are hearing from coaches and players?
Jarmon: “Absolutely. And that is what is fun about athletics. Sometimes people don’t have as optimistic approach going into a season and there is always room for surprises. I think this team is more than capable of pulling off some upsets or beating teams that we beat in the past couple of years. We have young players and it is going to be fun to watch these young players have the opportunity to step up and make big plays. And it is going to happen. You are going to see freshmen, sophomores make big plays this year. They are going to build on that and those are the kind of plays that build and propel them into a mindset that this is what I need to be doing on a consistent basis.
“The only way that happens is by playing your young players and taking chances. I remember the chance they took with me as a freshman when I saw extensive minutes when we had injuries. In the Vanderbilt game I gave up a touchdown on a reverse end-around. I came to the sideline and coach (Rich) Brooks was furious at me. I went out and had two sacks in the fourth quarter, maybe one in third and fourth, but I knew in my mind I needed to make up for that. That mistake helped elevate me into a better player. Coach Brooks was so disappointed. He told me that it was coming. I was a freshman at the time and built on that and rolled that into my sophomore and junior years.”
Question: Even though you are not allowed on the field to coach, how much could it help players just to have you around to share experiences like that with them?
Jarmon: “I will be able to share those kinds of things with the guys. I will be able to share with them some of the relationships I had with my coaches and examples of disagreements I had with my coaches that we handled behind the scenes that other people didn’t need to see. Situations in which I was wrong and needed to look at something from a different standpoint. You don’t always see those things as a player, especially a young player coming out 17 or 18 years old where all you have been told is ‘good job’ or ‘just go play.’ Now you are accountable and your actions, mistakes impact everybody.”
Question: Even though you are a Tennessee guy, is there something special about Kentucky-Louisville for you?
Jarmon: “Absolutely. This is an important game and with it being the first game of the year is the most important game of the season. The guys know that on both sides. (Louisville) Coach Charlie Strong and his guys know that as well as our staff over at Kentucky. It is a big one. Everybody is fired up and looking forward to Sept. 2.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — Jeremy Jarmon’s NFL career is over, but the former University of Kentucky defensive lineman has a new career at UK.
Coach Joker Phillips announced here Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days that Jarmon is the new assistant director of football operations at Kentucky. The job came open when former UK receiver Tommy Cook left to take a job at Kent State.
“You always have guys on your list if somebody leaves,” said Phillips.
Jarmon’s UK career was cut short when he was banned by the NCAA from playing because of a failed drug test due to an over the counter supplement he bought and took. Jarmon played wih the Washington Redskins before signing with Denver. He recently decided to end his NFL career.
“This is big for our program,” Phillips said. “It’s huge to get a young man like Jeremy Jarmon around our program. It’s huge to have him part of the program. He understands how we do things and he’s just a couple of months removed from being a NFL player.”