The Philadelphia Eagles will hold their rookie minicamp next weekend, commencing the next phase of a crucial offseason program. While this will be the first time we get to see this year’s Draft class in action, it’s also the first time we’ll see the crop of undrafted free agents all vying to secure a spot on the final 53-man roster. Among those signed by the team this year, lies one of the most unique stories in recent memory. The man in question is cornerback Jamalcolm Liggins, who played his collegiate ball at Dickinson State, North Dakota.
After spending his early childhood in Memphis, Liggins and his family moved to North Dakota and were immediately met with something different: Snow in the Spring. Used to the sweltering sun that follows winter in Tennessee, Liggins arrived in North Dakota with a shirt and shorts and had to prepare for a totally different way of life. It was that contrasting lifestyle that would prompt Liggins and his brothers to stay in the area a few years later when some of his family decided to move to Colorado.
“There were more opportunities for us here.” He told me. “If people graduate high school here, they go to college. In Memphis, some people don’t even graduate high school. The lifestyle was so different.”
It was in his teenage years where Liggins would really fall in love with Football. Having three older brothers, he’d always played 2-vs-2 games in the backyard, spurring sibling rivalries and developing a fierce competitive streak that would later become a staple of his game. Liggins began playing two ways, excelling as both a cornerback and a receiver. But as his talents exploded onto the radar of scouts and recruiters, Liggins was met with a tough decision.
“I wasn’t sure about college.” He told me. “It wasn’t normalized to me, I wasn’t expecting it. I was thinking about the military. It’d be a great career, would set me up for life and my foster father did it as well. After my senior year, I just figured I can’t give up on this, I love it. I had to find a way to keep playing.”
So, he called the one college who showed him more respect than any of the others who had been pestering him or months before giving him the cold shoulder while he took time to decide what was right for him; Dickinson State.
“I ended up turning a lot of schools down cause I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with myself.” A lot of those bigger schools were like ‘you’re making a big mistake’, calling me dumb, Dickinson state was like ‘if you change your mind, call us’, They were willing to give me a second chance to go there whereas the others were belittling me.”
It’s almost bewildering to think that colleges could turn so harshly on a young man trying to decide the best path for his own future, but it worked out for the best. The legacy Liggins would leave at Dickinson State saw him sky-rocket into the world of becoming an NFL Prospect.
When all was said and done, he was nominated for the Cliff Harris Award. An award handed to the defensive player of the year pooling from all NCAA Division II schools as well as NAIA colleges. In case that wasn’t impressive enough, that pool includes over 5,000 names. It’s not hard to see why, either.
During his career, Liggins competed in 43 games, tallying 151 tackles and three touchdowns. In the first round of the NAIA championship series in 2018 alone, Liggins had four interceptions for 91 yards. He has 13 career picks to his name. That kind of production simply raises eyebrows. And when you partner that with a 6’3, 210 lbs, defensive back, that turned into salivation for a lot of scouts. How was he able to stand out so boldly in such a small school? It all came down to mental makeup.
“Coming from such a small school, people told me ‘if you wanna make it to the league, you gotta transfer or go somewhere bigger. No way you can do it, you don’t have the platform to do it.’ I told myself I am as good as I think I am and the coaches are as good as they say they are. There’s no reason I can’t be at the level I want to be at. I trusted the coaches in that same mentality, it kept me going. Everyone said I couldn’t, it pushed me to be great because I knew id have an uphill battle.”
“I knew people were gonna target me a lot and when my junior year came around I knew they were going to test me. I had to make them pay for it, not giving them another chance to make that mistake. If the ball is in the air, it’s my ball.”
In his freshman year, coaches began to see just how much potential remained untapped and instilled a belief in Liggins that he could go all the way to the pros.
“I was like I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna pursue this.” His pacing changed as he recalled, you could almost feel the fire building once again. “I was always a hard worker, but the way I approached things off the field, I made a mental commitment that I was going to do this. It became a goal and a dream. I was going to do it.
Liggins clawed his way into the spotlight, making Odell Beckham-esque interceptions, hard-hits and becoming a leader among his peers. Coaches couldn’t speak highly enough of his work ethic and the tape speaks for itself. One of the teams who took a particular shine to Liggins was, of course, the team he signed with, the Philadelphia Eagles, who attended his Pro Day and sought to find out more about the man setting the NAIA ablaze.
“We ended up going through film and they wanted to pick my brain about the stuff I was thinking.” The now Philadelphia Eagle recalled. Being able to sit down with a scout, look through the tape, it was a nice opportunity to show what I know and to have my film up there as a reference, it was a really cool experience.”
After the NFL Draft passed and the dust began to settle, the whirlwind began for Liggins. Where would he sign? Who for? Was his dream going to come true? His agent did most of the talking that following morning, but Liggins knew where he wanted to play and after a day of unpredictable emotions, his agent confirmed it in the purest way possible. ‘You can call your Mom now’.
Liggins not only stayed in North Dakota away from his Mother to commit to playing Football but spent the cold months of January back in a hotter climate, Texas. It was here where he prepared for a pro day at North Dakota State, made a little more notable thanks to one Carson Wentz. To be able to finally say that all of the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, in spite of coming from such a small school and having other colleges turn the cold shoulder, was a moment he dreamed of for years and one he will cherish forever.
“For that to be the first thing he tells me, it’s official. I called her all excited. I felt like I was part of the family when I finally signed the contract. I can’t wait to get to the locker room and get my gear in there, the whole process has truly been a blessing.
I’m a mellow guy but I was super excited the hard work paid off. There’s more that h ave to be done now. All my sacrifices to this point, I’ve made it. The way people congratulated me, it was heart warming. I was fired up. It gave me a new kind of hunger. I’m at this level, now I have to keep it at this level and step it up one more.”
One of the deepest sleepers in this year’s class has defied the odds at every corner and now brings a very heavy chip on his shoulder, a relentless work ethic, and the longest frame of any corner in the room to a defense that’s starving for interceptions after lacking in that area heavily last year.
The story of Jamalcolm Liggins is a remarkable one. But a whole new chapter is about to unfold and I’m not sure if the world is ready for what comes next…
Mandatory photo credit: Shelby Reardon (IG: Shelbyreardonsportsphotography)