The Story 2017-09-05T18:37:12+00:00

A LIFE OF CHALLENGES OVERCOME

Life presents each person with different obstacles. For Jamaal Charles, the path to becoming one of the best running backs in the NFL was lined with adversity.

Living with a learning disability initially set Jamaal apart from his peers, but when his undeniable athletic talent shined through, it gave a young Jamaal an outlet. JC eventually turned that outlet into a means to support his family, and a platform to help children facing the same challenges he overcame.

A UNIQUE CHILD

Jamaal RaShaad Jones Charles was born on December 27, 1986, raised in Port Arthur, Texas, by a single mother, Sharon Charles, and a large, closely knit family.

Sharon was one of nine children of Jamaal’s grandparents, Mazelle and Oscar Miller. From those nine children came 32 grandchildren. The matriarch of the family was his grandmother, Mazelle, known to all the children as “Big Momma.”

Mazelle Miller kept things in order for the entire family. Jamaal recalled how, early in his life, everything revolved around spending time at his grandparents’ house, particularly on Sundays. The day began with church in the morning, and ended with dinner at Big Momma’s house.

Mazelle built and shared a special bond with Jamaal, the youngest member of the family.

“She was there for me so much early in my life. She praised me when I did well and she was mad at me when I did bad. She kept me disciplined,” he remembered. “She would always stick up for me too. My cousins would tease on me and she was always there to have my back, and tell them, ‘Leave him alone!’ She would tell me, ‘Don’t listen to them.’ I think she really was my guardian angel.”

Getting picked on was common for Jamaal growing up. The jabs came not only from his older siblings and cousins, but also from classmates. For as long as he can remember, the most difficult parts of school for Jamaal were some of the areas that came quickly to other kids. He had trouble maintaining focus, and that made pronouncing and spelling words difficult.

“I was teased about it,” he remembers. “When you have to stand up in front of the class and you’re struggling, it’s hard. People are saying, ‘He can’t read’ or ‘He doesn’t know how to pronounce words.’ It hurt me.”

It wasn’t until Jamaal was in the third grade that he discovered he had a learning disability. It took even longer to get help. In the fifth grade, Jamaal was told he was at a second grade reading level.

He was placed in special education classes, which often left him excluded from field trips and other activities his peers enjoyed.

The one trip he did get to take each year was to the Special Olympics, where he competed against peers suffering from the same learning disability. It began a relationship with the Special Olympics that he has maintained to this day.

“That was our only trip,” he said. “It wasn’t anything serious. I was out there with people just like me. We just learned differently. It just took us out of the classroom and let us compete. I raced against other people in my class who thought they were faster than me, and it helped me.”

SAFETY IN SPORTS

One place where Jamaal was always felt comfortable and safe was in athletics.

With the encouragement of his mother Sharon — herself a two-sport high school athlete — Jamaal was enrolled in several sports at a young age. It was also through sports that he and his mother built a unique bond.

“My mom started me out with football at four years old,” he recalls. Me and my momma have a strong relationship. We still do. I love my momma. She raised me. We’re still building our relationship even now.”

Jamaal proved a special talent from the beginning. He was a prodigious football player from a young age, and although the state of Texas is known for its rabid passion for the sport, he never felt pressure to perform as a boy. Instead, he took pure joy out of the sport, which allowed him to connect with friends in a way he wasn’t able to at school.

Jamaal also participated in basketball and baseball, but the sport he loved most was track. From a young age, he took comfort in the feeling he got from running. He found the individual nature of the sport appealing.

“What I liked about track was that I could enjoy it by going out there and just running. It was a comfort zone where I was in complete control. I didn’t need anybody to take care of me on the track. I worked hard on my own. I worked hard at football too, but with football, you’ve got to work with 20 other guys. Track helped me just get away from everyone.”

But eventually, life started to catch up.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

When Jamaal was eight years old, his grandmother passed away, and things became more difficult for him. He wound up moving from place to place, splitting time living with his mother and his aunt, Arlene LeBlanc.

His learning disability made finding stability essential, but that was becoming harder to come by. By the end of Jamaal’s freshman year in high school, he was still struggling to focus on his studies — particularly at home, where everyone was so busy that he often couldn’t find help with his homework. His teachers and coaches started to take notice.

Among them was his AAU basketball coach, Kenny Loften, a close family friend. Loften’s wife Gina was a teacher, and both she and Kenny could see something special in Jamaal. But they knew he needed help.

So they reached out to try to make things easier on him, offering a place to live and learn for as long as he wanted, another safe haven of sorts.

“I went there to try to learn. It was about trying to deal with the learning disability, and focus on what I wanted to do in life. I had so many great people in my life that just wanted to help me out. The Loftens took on a pretty big role in my life. They took me in like a son. I never had a dad there for me growing up, so he was more like a dad to me. That helped me and impacted me, because I had a man to talk to at home. They had different family values, so I learned about things that I didn’t have growing up.”

Though he lived with the Loftens for just one year before moving back in with his Aunt Arlene, the support that Gina and Kenny provided had a major impact in helping Jamaal establish a path for himself in life.

Even as Jamaal struggled to make the best of his classroom situation, he still had to deal with feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy around his peers. It didn’t help that they continued to see him as the kid who couldn’t put together sentences in elementary school, and was placed in special education classes.

In response, Jamaal kept to himself.

But his explosion onto the high school athletic scene to change that. Jamaal emerged as a track star in his sophomore year at Memorial High School, playing a large part in the school’s national record-breaking performance in the 4×200 relay. His success on the relay team and individually earned Jamaal a spot in the 2003 World Youth Championships, where he took bronze in the 400-meter hurdles.

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As his star quickly rose on an international level, Jamaal became something of a local celebrity in Port Arthur, too. His junior year, he had a breakout on the gridiron, supplanting his brother ShanDerrick — a star at Southern Methodist University — as his high school’s star.

“I was starting running back, and I just killed it,” he said. ” I didn’t know I was really a star until I started breaking records. Seeing people cheering for me, scoring touchdowns, that was just something that I embraced, something that I really wanted. When I saw my brother doing all that stuff, getting all the love, people cheering his name. I wanted all of that. I just wanted people to love me.”

They did. Jamaal rushed for over 2,000 yards as a junior and scored 27 touchdowns to help lead Port Arthur Memorial to the Regional Final, where they lost to the eventual champion. Jamaal was named district Player of the Year, First Team All-State and was honored with the Willie Ray Smith Award for Best High School Offensive Player in Southeast Texas.

Even as his peers began to show him the respect he always hoped for, Jamaal was worried it wouldn’t last. He worked hard to conceal his disability, worried it would scare off all his new friends, and jeopardize his sudden stardom on the field and at school.

“I tried to hide my identity, my disability behind who I was on the field. I liked the way they looked at me when they thought of me as the track star and the football star. It’s only natural to not want people to talk bad about you. So I didn’t want anybody to know. When somebody says you’re dumb and stupid, nobody wants to talk to you or be around you. They all want to be around the smart guy, the guy that can speak real well. That’s not fair. So I hid my personality. I didn’t want to say anything. I barely talked. I was shy. I just did my own thing. I just went my way, because I didn’t want people to judge me.”

His senior season, Jamaal kept everyone’s attention on his athletic exploits. He shined on the track, emerging as state champion in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles while posting the best high school times in the nation in each event.

In football, he was the talk of the state. By the end of the year, he had rushed for more than 4,000 career yards, eclipsing Joe Washington’s more than 30 year-old school record. The honors poured in. He was named First Team All-State by the Texas Sports Writers Association and the Associated Press, and Texas Offensive MVP by the Houston Chronicle. Nationally, he was recognized as a Parade All American and, perhaps the greatest honor of all, he was selected to play in the Army All-American Bowl.

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He was honored with his very own pep rally at Memorial High.

“I was so ambushed and surprised at that attention,” he said. “I felt like I was a star. Seeing the way people were thinking about me was so different from the way I was thinking about myself. My class voted me as most likely to succeed and most popular. After all I’d been through, that was crazy to me. I felt like I had to hide my identity because of my learning disability, but I was also trying to get into college. It was difficult. I just tried to roll with it, but I had low self esteem. I had a lot of confidence when I stepped on that track and I stepped on that field. It’s when I stepped off that field I didn’t because I was afraid everybody was looking at me different in the classroom.”

STAYING CLOSE TO HOME

In the midst of his junior and senior years, colleges came calling from all over for Jamaal. He got offers from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Florida and Miami, UCLA and Notre Dame, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and of course the University of Texas. Jamaal was fairly close to committing to the University of Florida — where he felt he could play football and run track — until he met University of Texas head football coach Mack Brown.

Going from the town of Port Arthur to the city of Austin and its university culture was a shock for Jamaal. UT was coming off a Rose Bowl berth the year prior to Jamaal’s enrollment, and expectations were as high as ever for Texas.

To Jamaal, what struck him about Texas was the camaraderie they had from the outset of the season. He complimented his teammates for making him feel comfortable from Day 1.

“The chemistry that everybody had as a team was incredible,” he explained. “We knew we had the team to do what we wanted to do and that was win a championship. I definitely fit right in and knew I’d made the right choice. Everybody was so cool to me from the moment I got there, and they took me right in. There was no jealousy at the running back position. We all had the same goal, ‘Let’s win these games.’ And that’s how it’s supposed to be when you go anywhere.”

Throughout the spectacular season — and in ways that foreshadowed his NFL career — Jamaal found myriad ways to have an impact on Texas’ success. In a thrilling win over Ohio State in the second week of the season, he was limited to just 26 rushing yards on 10 carries, but caught six passes for 69 yards. The following week, he piled up a season-high 189 yards rushing in a 51-10 blowout of Rice University.

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His other 100-yard rushing game came two weeks later, a 45-12 drubbing of rival Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. Jamaal finished with 116 yards, 80 of which came on a touchdown run. He left early with an injury, but still upstaged OU All-American running back Adrian Peterson, who carried just three times for 10 yards before getting knocked out of the game.

Eventually, Jamaal and the Longhorns reached the National Championship Game, and a showdown that seemed destined from the outset of the season between season-long No. 2 Texas and season-long No. 1 USC.

The game itself was one for the ages, one of the best national title games ever played and though Jamaal carried just five times, he picked up 34 yards in a game where every one was crucial. He also served often as a decoy for teammate Vince Young, whose incredible performance led the Longhorns to complete the unbeaten season with a championship.

“That’s one of the best moments I ever had,” Jamaal said. “I had never had won a championship in my life, and I finally won the championship on the collegiate level. How many people can say they did that? So that’s one of the moments I really remember.”

For his contributions to that team, Jamaal was named an honorable mention to the Freshman All-American Team and earned Freshman All-Big 12 Conference honors from The Sporting News. He was also selected as the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by coaches. It was just the start of an incredible freshman year for Jamaal.

That spring, he competed for the Longhorns track team as well, where he earned All-America honors in four events: the 60-meter indoor, the 100-meter outdoor, 200-meter outdoor and 4×100-meter relay outdoors. The 100-meters was his signature event. He blazed to the Big-12 crown in the sprint as a freshman with a time of 10.23. At the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, he placed fifth in the 100m and seventh in the 200m. But his efforts helped the Texas Men’s Track team place third.

FINDING LOVE

Freshman year at Texas was also an important year for Jamaal personally. He met the love of his life, his wife Whitney Golden.

The two met through mutual friends at a party, but didn’t begin dating until a year later. Still, Jamaal knew from the moment he laid eyes on her that she was going to be a special person in his life. That’s why he courted her for several months before they officially got together.

“It just felt like it was supposed to be,” he recalled. “I had feelings that I didn’t have for anybody else that I dated. Something just brought me toward her.”

Jamaal and Whitney remained together for the duration of JC’s stay at Texas and through his move to the NFL, and were married in 2012. Jamaal credits Whitney for keeping him grounded, and changing his life for the better.

“She’s very intelligent,” he related. “We put our brains together and think things out, like a couple is supposed to do. That’s what makes me better. She’s got some great ideas. I’ve got some good ideas that she helped me with. She talks to me like I’m not just her husband. She talks to me like I’m just her friend too, and I think that’s what you need.”

RECOMMITTING TO FOOTBALL

After a busy freshman year at Texas complete with championships and success on and off the field, where he was a member of the Texas Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for the first of three occasions, Jamaal went through a bit of a sophomore slump.

His sophomore season coincided with a changing of the guard on the UT football team. The National Champion Longhorns were loaded with upperclassmen who went on their way to graduation and/or the NFL. That left Jamaal as one of the most experienced players on the roster as a sophomore, a role he readily admits he might not have been completely ready for.

His statistics were similar to his freshman campaign, with just over 1,000 total yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. But the Longhorns struggled to establish their rushing attack throughout the season and it ended at a disappointing 10-3 that left them short of the Big 12 Championship Game.

That set the stage for a bounce back season the following season. At the advice of Coach Brown and the coaching staff, Jamaal decided to limit his competition for the track team. He emerged from the offseason training program bulkier and ready to be a workhorse for the Longhorns his junior year.

He urged coaches to push him even harder to get the most out of him.

“It is a way different feeling, knowing that I’m going to be the guy back there starting. I know I have to work hard because everybody is going to be there, depending on me to carry the rock every play,” he said at the time. “I have to be a leader now and lead the other running backs. I tell (the coaches) to leave me in during practice so I can get used to the game. I want to play hard during practice so I can be ready for the games.”

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By the time the season rolled around, Jamaal was more than ready. His play as a junior quickly put him on the fast track to the NFL.

“It was my time to show everyone what I can do,” Jamaal said afterward. “When I saw a hole, I blasted through it.”

Jamaal and his Texas teammates were in the Big 12 championship game picture until late in the season.

He rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns in a thrilling victory over Oklahoma State, then tallied 174 yards and a score in a win over Texas Tech. But a two week break late in the season broke the Longhorns’ momentum. They closed out the regular season with a loss to Texas A&M despite 173 all purpose yards from Jamaal. That loss left them second in the south to Oklahoma. They settled for a berth in the Holiday Bowl. There Jamaal completed his stellar junior season with a 161-yard, two touchdown day, including a 32-yard scoring run late in the fourth that iced a 52-34 Longhorns win.

He finished that season with 1,619 yards rushing to lead the Big 12 and the total was eighth best in the NCAA. He also had a Big 12 best 18 rushing touchdowns.

Prior to his junior season, Jamaal hadn’t given much thought to turning pro, but after his breakout campaign, he and his family got input from pro scouts and were told he would likely be a first or second round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Just days later, JC made the decision to forgo his senior season at Texas and enter the NFL Draft. He finished his Texas career with 3,328 yards rushing on 533 carries with 36 rushing touchdowns and 39 total touchdowns.

“It wasn’t a really hard choice, because I had already accomplished everything I wanted to at Texas,” he said. “I was a four-time, All-American in track. We won the National Championship in football. I definitely could have come back my senior year, but the most important thing was, I wanted to make my dreams come true.”

FROM THIRD ROUND TO PRO BOWL

Jamaal entered the 2008 Draft with high expectations. But in a class loaded with big name prospects at the running back position, somebody had to slide down boards. Due to his size and questions about his durability, that someone was Jamaal.

It was a heartbreaking day for the Charles family. Though he was happy to go to Kansas City to join a great organization, his expectations for himself were much higher. He anticipated he would be a first round pick, and hadn’t thought he’d make it out of the second round.

After he got the call from the Chiefs, there was no party. But that experience served as motivation for him. In fact, he still credits it for the success he’s had in the NFL up to this point.

“The draft was really one of my hardest moments in my life, but it was one of the most important experiences in my life too. I’m glad it turned out that way” he said. “It was God’s plan to humble me down. It made me a better person. If I would have been picked in the first round, I probably wouldn’t be in the league right now. I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That definitely sat me down and forced me to look at myself in the mirror. I just sat back the whole night crying. I guess that’s still making me who I am today, because I feel like I’m better than a third-round pick.”

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Jamaal’s transition to the NFL wasn’t easy. The early stages of Jamaal’s career were filled with motivation.

As a rookie, Jamaal wasn’t a big part of the game plan. He played in all 16 games, but started just two because of incumbent Larry Johnson. He showed flashes of stardom when he received opportunities, but they were few and far between. He finished the season with just 357 yards rushing, 252 yards receiving and a lone touchdown.

Year two didn’t start much better for Jamaal. The Chiefs had a 1-7 start, and he found himself benched for long stretches of games. He was even inactive for a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, a decision by Kansas City management that hit home.

“I guess I wasn’t playing up to expectations so I got benched and I was inactive for the game. That really hurt my heart. It woke me up. My grandma didn’t raise me to be like that. So I took the time to think and that helped me out a lot,” he said. “It changed my whole career. I was hungry again. That really motivated me more, when I couldn’t help my team on the field. They’re out there playing and they lost, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m good enough. I should be on the field. I shouldn’t be up in the press box, looking down at the team playing football.’ After that, I was ready to go out there and play.”

When Johnson got suspended for a Week 9 game against Jacksonville and subsequently released, Jamaal’s chance arrived. As he is known to do, JC ran with it.

Inserted as the starter for a Week 10 game against Oakland — the same team he’d been deactivated against earlier in the season — Jamaal broke out. He carried 18 times for 103 yards, including his first rushing touchdown in the NFL, a 44-yard dash in the second quarter. The Chiefs picked up their second win of the season, 16-10 over the Raiders.

From there, No. 25 starred in the second half, averaging over 100 yards per game over the next seven. That included a streak of four straight games with a touchdown and back-to-back career-high rushing totals of 143 and 154 yards in Week 14 and 15 respectively. But it in the final week of the 2009 regular season, the third day of January, 2010, Jamaal blew those totals out of the water and trumpeted his arrival.

Prior to the game, Chiefs coach Todd Haley set a goal for Charles to reach 200 yards in the season finale. Jamaal admitted afterward he thought the goal would be tough to attain.

“I thought he was crazy, man,” he said. “Two hundred? In the NFL?”

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In a 44-24 KC drubbing of the Denver Broncos, Jamaal carried 25 times for 259 yards — the eighth most rushing yards by a player in a single game all-time — and a pair of touchdowns. With his 56-yard scoring run halfway through the fourth quarter, Jamaal broke Johnson’s single game rushing record and put the exclamation point on the Chiefs victory. Though it was just Kansas City’s fourth win a a 4-12 campaign, it signaled that better things were yet to come.

It was that game, technically the first one Jamaal played in 2010, that served as a catalyst for his breakout 2010 season. In that 2010 campaign, he started just six of Kansas City’s 16 games, but still got a career-high 230 carries and 1,467 yards rushing to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. He was also named first team All-Pro, finished second in the NFL in rushing yards and won the FedEX NFL Air and Ground Player of the Year Award.

“It definitely felt good, because by that time my draft class and my age group had some big time backs. Chris Johnson was drafted the same year as me and he was hot. I wanted to be up there in that conversation with him and then Arian Foster broke out that year too. I wanted to be up there with those guys. I felt like I was at their level, that I could be up there on top like them. And that pushed me even more to be the running back that I am. I feel like I’m one of the top running backs in the NFL.”

Not only had Jamaal broken out, but with No. 25 as the team’s catalyst, the Chiefs won the AFC West in 2010 and reached the postseason for the first time in four years.

SETBACK FOR A COMEBACK

Early in the first quarter of the second game of the 2011 season, with his Chiefs facing the Lions in Detroit, Jamaal took a sweep right and was forced out of bounds. As he made a bid for the first down marker, No. 25 went crashing into the Lions sideline where he took an awkward step and went down in a heap holding his left knee.

An MRI later revealed a running back’s worst fear, a torn ACL that cost him the rest of the 2011 season and cast doubt upon a future which, before that misstep, was showing as much promise as any player in the NFL. For Jamaal, it was a scary time in his career and his life.

“It just gave me a whole other look on football,” he recalls. “You think about everything right down to if you will ever be able to walk or run the same way again. Because if you haven’t been through it, you don’t know. Through the whole process, I was thinking, ‘What if I can’t play the way I played before, if I can’t run the way I run. I love running. If I can’t play ball and be the same person I was before, how am I going to do? What is my career going to be?’ So there was a lot of stuff going on in my head you’ve got to deal with.”

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But like many of the adverse situations Jamaal has faced in his life, this one made him stronger. One unexpected consequence was that it made Jamaal appreciate the life he had been blessed to lead. Gone were his concerns about what people thought about him and his desire to hide his learning disability. Through hardship he had found the confidence that was previously absent in his life.

“After I had my surgery, I just started looking at life different and that’s when my perspective changed,” he said. “I just felt I couldn’t be mad at who God made. He made me this way for a reason. He made you unique. People are going to find things to say about you, good or bad. But no matter what they believe, they can’t change the person that God made you. Nobody is perfect and it took that injury happening to me to realize that.”

He also realized that a comeback was ultimately up to him.

“When you hurt yourself, you have to go through this process all again, rebuilding yourself almost,” he explained. “There is no guarantee. You can come back great or you can come back not great. But if you attack it with a good, positive mindset, I think you can better yourself. You have to commit to the rehab fully and prepare yourself to come back harder and stronger.”

After nearly a full year on the shelf, Jamaal indeed came back stronger. The Chiefs originally intended to ease him back in, and he didn’t get the start in the season opener. But he got 16 carries and totaled 87 yards in his debut, alleviating some doubts about his status. He started every game the rest of the way for Kansas City.

The game that really showed he was the Jamaal Charles of old was Week 3 in New Orleans on the Superdome turf. The Saints jumped out to a big 24-6 lead midway through the third quarter of the contest, but one big play by No. 25 turned the tide.

Just moments after the third New Orleans touchdown of the day, Jamaal took a handoff from the nine-yard-line off left tackle, and escaped a potential tackler in the backfield. He shifted into second gear to outrun the defense, and turned on the afterburners to go 91 yards down the sideline for his first touchdown of the season. It was also the longest touchdown run in Chiefs history. JC finished the day with 33 carries for 233 yards, helping to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and a game-winner in overtime.

“There’s nothing better than having a guy, you give him a small crease, he can burst through and it take the distance any time,” then Chiefs offensive lineman Jon Asamoah said. “There’s nothing better than when you see him taking off. Nobody can catch him.”

“It brought me back to my old days,” Jamaal said of the big day in New Orleans. “Now I can just go try to let loose, and hopefully do something every week to help my team win.”

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He finished the year with 1,509 yards rushing on 285 carries, a career-high average of 94.3 yards per game. With his 236 receiving yards, he had a grand total of 1,745 yards from scrimmage, including six total touchdowns. Usually Jamaal’s season would have made him a shoo-in for NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors, but in a season where all-time greats Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson were also on the comeback trail, he finished third. Still JC was honored with his second Pro Bowl nod and was a Second Team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press.

A NEW ERA, A NEW DEAL

After the 2012 season yielded a disappointing result, the Chiefs made some changes that set the franchise, and JC in particular up for long-term success. Among them were the acquisition of quarterback Alex Smith, and the hiring of new head coach Andy Reid. Known as one of the most player-friendly coaches in the league, Reid established a family-friendly atmosphere in the locker room.

Jamaal felt an immediate connection with his new coach.

“I have a good relationship with Coach Reid. He’s basically like a father figure to me. Most all the players here feel that way,” JC said. “He’s like family, and he creates an atmosphere where we can all bring our families together. Because at the end of the day, as a team, we are a family. He wrote on his door: ‘Family comes in the door, and we leave as family.’ So he’s brought in some of the same principles I’ve been growing up with my whole life, and that’s made me feel comfortable here even more as a member of the Chiefs.”

In his first season under Reid, Jamaal backed up his 2012 campaign with another excellent season in 2013, helping the Chiefs rally from the bottom of the league in a one-year turnaround for the second time in his young career.

This time, he rushed for 1,287 yards on 259 carries, and complemented his rushing with the best receiving season of his career, with 70 catches for 693 yards. In total, he finished just shy of the 2,000 yards from scrimmage with 1,980 in 15 games, which ranked him second in the league. He also scored 12 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns to lead the NFL in both categories.

With his help, the Chiefs clinched a playoff berth with a Week 16 win over Indianapolis, which led Reid to rest Jamaal and some of his teammates for the final game of the regular season in preparation for their playoff rematch with the Colts.

Unfortunately, just six plays into the Wild Card round showdown, Jamaal landed awkwardly while being tackled, and suffered a concussion that kept him out for the rest of the game. KC took a 38-10 lead early in the second half only to watch it dissolve over the final 28 minutes of the contest. Indianapolis rallied to a 45-44 victory to knock the Chiefs out of the playoffs after just one game, the team’s seventh consecutive one-and-done playoff appearance dating back to 1993.

However, Jamaal saw enough from the team in their bounce back 2013 season to commit fully to the cause. In the summer of 2014, he signed a five-year contract extension to keep him in Kansas City.

“I love this organization and I’m really excited about being here. The franchise came from Texas, where I’m from. Mr. Hunt was one of the founders of the NFL, so that’s a pretty cool thing about this franchise. The fan base here is amazing, and Arrowhead is one of the best stadiums in the world. They love them some Arrowhead football. That’s what really makes me play hardest, the fans out here. That and the fact that this organization is a family. Family is important to me.”

“I came from struggle,” he says. “But I’ve always been part of a loving family. So to this day, I’m still trying to provide for my family and keep them together. That’s what my grandmother always wanted me to do, so I take pride in bringing my family together.”

Today, Jamaal continues to cement his legacy as one of the best running backs to ever play the game. Off the field, he’s also working to share the lessons of his youth with others, especially children. For Jamaal, helping kids embrace who they are and be kind to one another is everything.

“I regret hiding my true self, because God made me the way I am,” he related. “I’m happy with who I am. That’s why I speak out to people that have learning disabilities and tell them, ‘Don’t give up.’ People may talk about you, but look how at how far I came. So don’t get discouraged, don’t ever get down on yourself. You can make the world a better place. Just you’ve got to find what makes you feel comfortable. Everybody is different. That’s what people have to understand, especially kids. So I just want to encourage everyone I can.”