The three most terrifying letters to NFL offensive coordinators are JPP. That’s because Jason Pierre-Paul has a freakishly complete package for a defensive end. He possesses great power and speed. He can get to the quarterback. He can stuff the run. He bats down passes and blocks kicks. Jason even breaks up plays that are purposely designed to run away from him—mostly because he never stops hustling. At the start of the 2011 campaign, some were saying he had a chance to be one of the better players on the Big Blue D. By season’s end, Jason ranked among the best in the league. This is his story…
Jason Pierre-Paul was born on January 1, 1989, in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Jason’s parents, Jean and Marie, emigrated from Haiti in 1993. Shortly after his birth, his father began losing his sight and was soon completely blind. Marie had to work several cleaning jobs simultaneously in order to keep the family afloat.
Jason was a handful almost from the word go. His parents and sisters—Nadie and Herbie—describe him as being in a constant state of agitation, bursting with energy, almost never calm. He used sports to blow of steam, and quickly developed into a spectacular athlete.
Jason’s size and agility pushed him toward basketball. As he sprouted toward his eventual height of 6-5, he began thinking about a college hoops scholarship and an NBA career. He spent endless hours honing his game on the courts in and around Deerfield Beach High School, where he lettered for the varsity all four years. Jason’s raw power had its downside, however. He broke his leg three times as a teenager, including once coming down from an acrobatic dunk.
It was on those outdoor courts that Deerfield Beach football coach Greg Minnis became increasingly convinced that Jason would make a game-changing defensive end. The school had a good team already; Minnis knew Jason could take his Bucks to the next level. The bigger and quicker Jason got, the more Minnis pursued him.
Jason didn’t really get football. His mother was not crazy about the idea of his playing, either. But Minnis was relentless. Finally, during the fall of his junior year, Jason relented. Joining the team in-season, he took a seek-and-destroy approach to his new sport, and enemy offenses paid the price. A few weeks later, the Bucks were playing in the state title game. The following season, Jason was the star of the Deerfield Beach football team in what was essentially his first full season of organized football.
When Jason had still been exclusively a basketball player, University of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt had noticed him in the gym during a recruiting visit. He was told not to bother talking to Jason—the kid had never played a down of football at that point. When Leavitt returned to campus in 2006, during Jason’s senior season, he saw a changed young man. Jason told Leavitt not to forget about him. Leavitt promised he wouldn’t—and predicted they would accomplish great things together one day.
That day would not come for two years. Jason’s academics were not up to Division I standards, so he crossed the country to play for College of the Canyons, a two-year institution in Santa Clarita, near Los Angeles. It is a popular stop for young football players hoping to snag a D-I scholarship, not to mention a popular stop for D-I coaches looking for diamonds in the rough.
ON THE RISE
Jason took to his new environment quickly. He LINED UP AT defensive end and had 14 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2007. The Cougars finished 9–2 and looked forward to a second season with Jason powering the defensive. At this point, however, he had his sights set on the NFL, which put his education on the back burner. Jason simply was not cutting it as a student under the relatively rigorous demands of the California junior college system. Also, he was paying his own way, which was a hardship on his family.
Jason decided to transfer to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas for his sophomore season. There he could continue playing against top competition, but with a lower academic bar—and a scholarship in his pocket. That being said, Jason knew that he would have to play at least one year for a Division I school to showcase his talents to the pros, which meant at some point he would have to show up in class. In 2008, he definitely showed up on the field, with 70 tackles and 10.5 sacks. The Greyhounds finished 9–2 and won the Heart of Texas Bowl at the end of the year.
During one game as a sophomore, Jason was taken to the hospital after injuring his neck on a first-quarter tackle. After getting an MRI and a letter from doctors, he rushed back to the stadium and returned in the game before it ended.
After the 2008 season, Jason fielded scholarship offers from Kansas State, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Florida, Florida State, Miami and South Florida. Knowing he would get on the field right away, wanting to stay close to home—and remembering his conversation with coach Leavitt—Jason opted for USF.
Jason spent just one season at South Florida, but it was a season that changed his life. His arrival at training camp was delayed by two weeks because he had to make up 18 hours of course work to become D-I eligible. But Jason got up to speed quickly and had a breakout game against 18th-ranked Florida State. He brought down three Seminole running backs behind the line, sacked the quarterback once and hurried him twice, and forced a fumble in a 17–7 victory. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.
Jason was dominant again in the team’s next two games, against Syracuse and Cincinnati. In the first contest, he intercepted a pass and ran it in for a score. He and All-American teammate George Selvie finished the year as the hands-down best DE pair in the Big East. The USF defense yielded just 19.8 points per game, putting it in the Top 20 in the nation.
The Bulls finished the season with an 8–5 record and were invited to participate in the International Bowl in Toronto. Jason dropped two runners for a loss and recorded a sack in what would be his final collegiate game. The Bulls thrashed Southern Illinois 27–3 in what would be the last International Bowl played.
Jason decided to forego his senior season and in early January declared himself eligible for the 2010 NFL draft. The Giants were impressed enough by his awesome physical tools to gamble a first-round pick, the 15th overall choice. GM Jerry Reese had established himself as a talent evaluator who wasn’t adverse to taking risks. Jason’s potential was too much for him to pass up.
Early in camp, Mathias Kiwanuka, a first round pick in 2006 for New York, took Jason under his wing. Later, when Kiwanuka was sidelined with a disk injury, the entire defensive line adopted him. Jason made a big impression with his enthusiastic, aggressive and instinctive play on special teams. He was the fastest guy on the coverage teams, and the biggest, too.
The Giants tried to spot Jason during the first half of the 2010 campaign, limiting him to situations where his speed and power could do the most damage with the smallest downside. Slowly but surely, he began to get a feel for the team’s complex defensive package. Toward the end of November, Jason had his first breakthrough performance, nailing David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars twice for sacks and stripping the ball both times. These were the key defensive plays in a narrow 24–20 victory.
Jason added two more sacks against the Washington Redskins a week later. These developments were particularly encouraging to Jason’s veteran teammates, who knew from their own experience that this was the time of year when rookies tend to get overwhelmed by the long NFL season.
The Giants finished the 2010 season with 10 wins but missed the playoffs on tiebreakers. Jason was disappointed and so were the Giants. He was the kind of secret weapon that could have made a difference in the postseason. Adding to the team’s frustration was the ensuing lockout, which robbed Jason of crucial preseason development time. As it turned out, it hardly mattered.
MAKING HIS MARK
To say that Jason caught opponents off guard early in 2011 would be an understatement. He was a different player. He had a much deeper understanding of his role in the team’s defensive schemes, which enabled him to focus his size, strength and speed in ways that would have the maximum impact on every play. Soon opposing teams were tweaking their playbooks in an attempt to neutralize Jason. They enjoyed little success. Jason was arguably the top-performing Giant in the season’s first half.
After a solid 6–2 start, the Giants went into a midseason funk that evened their record at 6–6. One of those losses was a 49–24 blowout by the Saints. Early in that game, New Orleans faked a field gold and attempted to run for the first down. Jason chased Jimmy Graham from the opposite side of the field and pulled him down a yard short. It was a play few other players—and probably no other lineman—could have made.
With Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck hampered by injuries much of the year, Jason’s rapid development was crucial to the team’s playoff run. Football aficionados watched to see how he would handle the home stretch of a pressure-packed campaign. The Giants went into December needing to beat the Dallas Cowboys twice and win at least one other game. This they did, and Jason was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for December.
His signature play during this stretch was a blocked field goal at the end of the first Dallas game. With the Giants up 37–34 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback, Dan Bailey of the Cowboys lined up a kick from the 37 to tie the game. Jason bulled through the phalanx of blockers and batted down the ball to seal Big Blue’s season-saving victory. It was the final flourish in a dominant 60-minute performance by Jason, which started with a first-period safety and included a second-quarter forced fumble and a third-quarter sack.
Jason finished the regular season with 23 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks—the fourth-highest total in team history. He had become the leader of a defense that ranked sixth-worst in the league—but was getting healthy and dominant at just the right time. Although the Giants were given no chance at a Super Bowl berth,coach Tom Coughlin and the players knew they were capable of stopping any opponent.
In the playoffs, every opponent game-planned for Jason and did a decent job limiting the havoc he created. In three NFC postseason games he had a relatively low total of 16 tackles. Half of those came against Atlanta durng the Wild Card weekend. The Giants steamrolled the Falcons in a 24-2 victory. Next up were the 15-1 Packers in Green Bay. Again New York was dominant. With Eli Manning playing the best football of his life, the Giants cruised to a 37-20 win.
The NFC Championship Game in San Francisco against the 49ers promised to be a defensive struggle. That was fine by Jason and his teammates. The Giants continued their amazing run, thanks in part to a part of turnovers on special teams by the Niners. An overtime field goal by Lawrence Tynes gave Big Blu the conference championship.
Jason was learning that playoff football is a different animal entirely. The extra attention paid to him enabled the Giants as a team to turn in three dominant defensive performances and earna return date with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Prior to the game, Jason said that he thought the Giants had the upper hand and that Tom Brady would remember the pressure the New York pass rush had placed on him earlier in the season in a 24–20 win by Big Blue. He added that Brady “isn’t God.” While his comments generated headlines, Jason’s teammates stood by him. He wasn’t one to play coy in the media. Jason liked to speak his mind.
The Pats were slight favorites heading into the game. The key to success for the Giants seemed to be how well Jason and his teammates would do in getting to Brady. With the exception of a first-quarter safety, the New England blockers did a superb job of keeping their quarterback out of harm’s way. At one point, in fact, Brady connected on 16 straight passes. But besides to long drives, the Giants’ defense held the Patriots in check. Trailing 17-15 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Manning and the offense went to work. The Giants scored a touchdown with just over a minute remaining. After a failed 2-point conversion, they held a 21-17 lead. Brady had one more chance, but the best he could muster was a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play. It fell incomplete, and the Giants were champions.
Jason is one of the only players in NFL history who can say they went from playing community college football to winning the Super Bowl in the span of just over three years. Even more amazing, when he looks back on his career, Super Bowl XLVI may not even qualify as the high point. If Jason continues to improve and stays healthy, the 2011 championship ring is likely to be one of many honors and awards he accumulates during his football life. One thing is certain—for opposing quarterbacks, JPP spells trouble.
JASON THE PLAYER
When Jason came into the NFL, the knock on him was his football IQ. No one’s knocking that anymore. The growing pains lasted exactly one season. During his first year, Jasom was not always sure what he needed to do within the defensive scheme. He now reads and reacts like a veteran, and his arsenal of moves and strategies to shed blockers seems to grow with each game. Indeed, Jason has shown he knows how to adjust to the double-teams and new blocking schemes designed to neutralize him.
The secret to his success, however, is still his physical game. Jason plays hard and fast, with great passion. He is very good at anticipating the snap and gets off the ball and around the edge quickly. He uses his long arms and large hands to push off of blocks and gain separation, and has good fell for the angles.
Jason’s motor never stops. That’s one of several qualities that makes him a natural leader. Teammates have already grown accustomed to expecting a big play from him. He has an amazing knack for making them.
Bio by www.JockBios.com