A Letter to NFL GMs

SAMUEL LEWIS/ICON SPORTSWIRE

Dear NFL General Managers,

I come from a family of football players and lawyers. My dad was a state championship QB at Columbus High in Marshfield, Wisconsin. My aunt is a government attorney, and my grandfather was a lawyer, too.

In college, I decided I wanted to do both. Law is the only subject that I’m as passionate about as I am about football. There’s actually a lot of overlap between the preparation it takes to be a quarterback and the amount of studying it takes to be a lawyer. You have to be detail-oriented. You have to love a challenge. Someone who won’t rest until they’ve exhausted every possible solution.

That’s me. I graduated magna cum laude in three years from Bowling Green with a prelaw degree.

So when the invitation to the NFL combine hit my inbox, I didn’t jump for joy or sit back in awe — I went straight into preparation mode. I knew I would have to overcome a lot of doubters because I was from a mid-major school — I transferred from Bowling Green to Florida International before my junior season — but I was also completely confident in my abilities as a quarterback. I know I can play at the NFL level. I saw it as my job at the combine to prove that to you — and hopefully, I did.

I’m sure that some players find the long days at the combine exhausting, but digging into the most minute aspects of the game, talking strategy, dissecting playbooks? I love those things. I could do that all day. In college, I was the guy who stayed up all night coming up with new plays for seven-on-seven drills. That’s me: I’m a detail nerd.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not just about crunching numbers and analyzing film.

The field is where it really matters.

I may prepare like Peyton Manning, but if you dissect my style as a quarterback you’re going to see just as many similarities to the styles of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. I grew up in Green Bay, about 15 minutes from where they both made the magic happen. I went to high school less than a mile from Lambeau Field.

I wasn’t the only kid in town who worshipped Favre, but I made sure to wear number 4 in middle school. I also tried to copy his methods on the field to the best of my ability. I’ve got that gunslinger mentality — I’m not afraid to take risks because I’m confident in my arm.

James Morgan

Rodgers took over when I was in high school, and I changed my number to 12. (Sorry, Brett.) Mimicking aspects of his game meant that sometimes I would opt for the safer throw to pick up quick yards, instead of forcing something deep.

I was a four-star recruit out of Ashwaubenon High, one of the top 25 quarterbacks in the nation — I threw for the fifth-most career passing yards in state history. I was hoping to get a look from Wisconsin, but nothing came. They didn’t recruit me at all. In fact, I wasn’t offered by any Power Five schools. I was confused and pretty hurt. But it made me want to chase my dreams even more. It was a feeling I’ve carried with me ever since: I’ll prove you wrong.

As a redshirt freshman at Bowling Green in 2015, I was incredibly fortunate to learn under head coach Dino Babers and quarterbacks coach Sean Lewis. But they left for Syracuse before I ever played a game. The next fall, with a new system with new coaches, I won the QB job and had a decent season. But our team struggled when I was a sophomore and changes were made, including at quarterback. I was surprised and disappointed — and forced to make a decision.

One of my old coaches had always told me, “Believe in spite of the evidence, and then watch the evidence change.” And for me, despite the tough season, my resiliency and my belief in myself had never been stronger. I was eager to compete for the game and the position I loved. Bowling Green was a great introduction to college football, a great place to get my feet wet, but I was hungry to get back on the field and lead a team — like I knew I could.

I purchased a physical list of more than 100 schools for $50 from a friend who ran a recruiting service. I sent out emails and highlight videos to 30 different teams. Only one coach — Bryn Renner from Florida International — called me up.

At FIU I started nearly every game in 2018 and ’19 and played the best football of my life. My career hasn’t followed a clear, straight path, but the twists and turns I’ve had to take couldn’t have prepared me better to be your quarterback. I’ve had to learn three different offenses as a college QB, and just as important, I’ve had to earn the respect and trust of two different football teams.

Technically, what’s prepared me the most is that I played in a pro-style offense. Coach Babers ran the spread at Bowling Green. It was great. There’s lots for a quarterback to do — you make a lot of deep throws that showcase your arm strength. But the spread is also about getting the ball to your best athletes and letting them make plays. As a quarterback you’re more concerned with dissecting coverages than aligning protections.

So the spread is simpler, but the pro-style offense actually suits me better. I like knowing who is protected, who is accounted for, and who’s picking up the blitz. Like I said earlier, I’m at my best when I’m dealing with that level of detail — the more the better. I like being the leader on offense, and I see it as one of my jobs to know what everyone else is doing.

Beyond the X’s and O’s, one of my favorite parts about being a leader is setting lofty expectations for my teammates — and then laying the groundwork for them to achieve them. It’s really rewarding when you help someone accomplish something that maybe they thought they couldn’t. And I’ll work day in and day out with everyone to reach those goals, because there’s absolutely no better feeling than seeing a teammate do the impossible.

In a way, I look at this letter and still feel like the kid who wrote to 30 schools, hoping for a chance. I got overlooked a lot between high school and this moment. I still have a chip on my shoulder, still want to show people that they were wrong about me. And if it’s possible, I’m even more motivated now.

I’ve got so much left to prove.

And just like in 2017, I only need one answer and one team.

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