Ja’Marr Chase was relatively new to the long jump. In fact, he had never attended the event in an official capacity until his junior high school season.
But there he was, at the Louisiana State track and field meet, getting ready for a jump. Chase’s father, Jimmy Chase, remembers it well. Two older boys made good jumps past Ja’Marr and were the toast of the event. The crowd was screaming for them, chanting their names and clapping their hands.
All he did was fuel and motivate Chase.
“I have an old saying,” says Jimmy. “‘You’re driving Ja’Marr crazy, he’s going to do something.'”
And Ja’Marr did something on the track: he broke a 35-year-old school record, jumping 24 feet, 2½ inches in a mark that has yet to be broken and winning the state title.
If anyone didn’t realize Ja’Marr Chase was built differently, they did.
“At conception, the Lord touched him and said ‘Player!
Ja’Marr could jump far down the track, dive across the basketball court, and catch anything thrown nearby on a football field. He prioritized the latter and broke records at every level he played. At Archbishop Rummel High School just outside New Orleans in Metairie, Chase has career, single-season and single-game receiving records. At LSU, he broke the SEC record for touchdown receptions in a season (20). As a pro in 2021, he had the most receiving yards in a game by a rookie (266) and most receiving yards in a season by a Cincinnati Bengal. Roll up all those records – the long jump too! – and Chase has already had a spectacular career, and he’s only 21 years old.
But the track on which Ja’Marr Chase finds himself, the one that led to the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, could have turned out much differently.
Think about it. What if he changed position to become a defensive back? LSU coaches actually suggested it early on in his recruiting. What if he hadn’t attended LSU and never been paired with quarterback Joe Burrow? Chase’s recruitment was a madcap, goofy rush that included disengagements from two other schools. What if he never advanced beyond the immature freshman who had already been fired from a post meeting?
“He and I had it…I threw him out of the boardroom once,” says Jerry Sullivan, one of Chase’s college wide receivers coaches and longtime NFL tutor in the position. “He was better than most players he played against. You could see it, you just had to get it out to him.
It’s out now, shredding the best football league in the world. His rookie stats are somewhat mind-blowing. During a five-game streak that included two playoff games, he had 642 yards and 34 catches. He also has the league’s third-most touchdowns (13), fourth-most yards (1,455), and fifth-most catches from at least 20 yards (22). He shattered the NFL rookie receiving records set in 2020 by good friend Justin Jefferson, another New Orleans product who partnered with Chase and Burrow to help deliver the 2019 LSU Championship and now plays with the Minnesota Vikings.
For many in Baton Rouge, it looks like this season has extended into 2022 with the connection between Burrow and Chase now monopolizing the NFL.
“It’s like they just keep going, like it never stops,” says Jack Marucci, LSU’s director of athletic performance innovation and a former athletic coach at the school. “You even see the same routes.”
What makes Chase so different is his strength in this position. It’s built thicker and sturdier like a running back. It is almost impossible to press the line. His strength is his “secret” and it’s the magic that makes him so unstoppable, says Jimmy Chase. He remembers when Ja’Marr started lifting weights regularly in high school (he almost never missed a morning lift). Her son started strutting around the house shirtless. Even if the Chases had company, it didn’t matter. There was Ja’Marr bursting into the living room shirtless.
“Put on a shirt!” Jimmy would smack him.
“No!” Ja’Marr would yell back.
At LSU, Moffitt and his strength team often measured a player’s “bar speed,” which determined how fast you moved weight. In the bench press, for example, the timer started as soon as a player touched the bar against his chest. It stopped when he put it back in the rack. The barbell speed normally slows as the weight increases, but no matter how much Moffitt loaded the barbell, Chase’s barbell speed remained the same.
“It tells you he has power,” Moffit says. “He moves the weight extremely quickly.”
Weight. Opposing cornerbacks. Securities. It moves everyone.
“You see DBs trying to grab them,” Sullivan says. “He throws them away. I taught him the technique – you lose them with that forearm. He is strong as [San Francisco 49ers receiver] Anquan Boldin.
Speed was also not an issue.
“College coaches would come and say, ‘How fast is he going?'” recalled Jay Roth, Chase’s high school coach. “I would say to them, ‘I’ve never timed it, but I’ve never seen anyone catch it.'”
Things weren’t always so easy for Ja’Marr. He grew up in a home with five older siblings on the West Bank of New Orleans in Gretna, a town south of the Mississippi River from New Orleans’ central business district. According to the 2019 census, Gretna’s median household income was less than $50,000 and one-fifth of its population lived below the poverty line. Chase’s mother cleaned hospital equipment, while his father is a social worker. His older sisters and brothers constantly teased and abused him, but he never gave up, always coming back for more bruises. Thoughts of college first began out-of-state – Chase like many talented New Orleans football players who, through various forces, were pressured to leave Louisiana.
“They’re always told, ‘Get away from it,'” says former LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph, himself a native of New Orleans.
That didn’t help the state‘s flagship school, LSU, and its head coach, Les Miles, suggested at a recruiting camp that Chase move to defensive back. It didn’t go over well with Chase. So, during a live spot on NFL Network the summer before his junior season, he was ready to commit to TCU. But the show went on for a long time, and Chase’s commitment was rocked. He didn’t commit at all. Six months later he committed to Kansas, and within eight days he disengaged. At the start of his senior season, he committed to Florida. A few months later, he withdrew.
By then, LSU had fired Miles. Ed Orgeron took over and hired Joseph as receivers coach, and the two devoted much of their focus and resources to landing Chase.
“I don’t know what happened between him and Les, but we knew he was one of the best receivers in the country,” says Joseph, who is now on the Nebraska staff. “Coach O looked me straight in the eye in a meeting and said, ‘Mickey, Ja’Marr Chase is coming to LSU.'”
Orgeron pulled out the saves and then argued with the entire LSU coaching staff for a visit to Chase’s house before signing day. The 10 assistants got out of a limousine shuttle and another SUV. Jimmy still has the photo – a keepsake and perhaps the final gesture that convinced his son to stay in his home country.
In Chase’s first year, Joseph didn’t play him in a handful of games, fearing mistakes would hurt the team and his young player’s confidence. But the team gave Chase a chance in their Fiesta Bowl win over UCF, and he went on to set career highs for yards (93) and catches (6). Joseph remembers thinking to himself, “Mom, this giant has already woken up.
In LSU’s 2019 title chase, Chase led the FBS in receiving yards with 1,780 (nearly 120 yards per game). He also eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times and the 200-yard mark in three games. It was enough to get him through his junior season, a decision frowned upon by some but which seems to have paid off. He spent off-year training in Dallas, studying film and watching his former college teammates struggle until a 2020 season impacted by COVID 5-5.
What many don’t know, his dad says, is that Chase almost returned mid-season from LSU.
“People don’t realize how close he was to coming back,” Jimmy says. “After game three he was watching and jumped off the couch after losing. He said “I’m about to re-enroll!” It was killing him.
The family seriously explored whether Chase would have been eligible to return (Jimmy says Ja’Marr would have) and spoke at length to coaches about his reinstatement. In the end, Ja’Marr remained on the sidelines. He went nearly two years without playing a match. During pre-season camp and games in August, he dropped a few passes and missed some roads. His father was an emotional wreck, fearing his son would drop the map project.
“When he started camp, I asked him and he was like, ‘I’m not worried about these guys,'” Jimmy said. “He knew he could play.”
Months later, he’s playing in the Super Bowl and could face one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Earlier this week, Sullivan read the comment and texted his former player. “Don’t let Ramsey get into your head,” Sullivan wrote.
What if he does? This brings us back to the old adage of Jimmy Chase.
“You’re driving Ja’Marr crazy, he’s going to do something.”
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