His career over for real this time, Stephenson spurned more job offers to follow Whipple and Brown to the University of Massachusetts, where he worked as a coaching assistant while getting his master’s degree in sports management. He helped coach the defensive backs, broke down film and completed quality control reports.
“Jamaal’s choice of career was a complete shock to me,” said his father, Tyrone. “Jamaal never discussed becoming a scout or getting a job in the NFL.”
Stephenson never noticed a scout on campus at Brown and had little knowledge of what they did. But after conversations with UMass alumni Marc Ross, now the vice president of player evaluation for the Giants, and Scott Cohen, now a senior personnel adviser for the Buccaneers, Stephenson was hooked.
“He always knew who the good players were and which guys you could lean on,” Brown said. “You knew he was going to be good, and it doesn’t surprise me that he has found himself a nice niche in pro football.”
In 1999, Cohen helped Stephenson land an internship with the Redskins. After a stint with the Texans, Stevenson joined the Vikings as an area scout in 2002. He moved back to the Washington D.C. area — where he still lives with his wife, Emily, and children, Noah and Gabrielle — to scout the East Coast.
“It wasn’t natural to me at first. … I was just a young guy throwing stuff on paper based on my experiences at Brown,” Stephenson said. “It took some time, but once I got under the wing of Frank Gilliam and Scott Studwell, it became clear that I had a pretty good eye for talent.”
He values getting a feel for a player’s passion, too. Asked if his past has something to do with that, Stephenson chuckled. It does.
“How much they love the game, that’s a big part of it,” he said.
Stephenson, who had been assistant director of college scouting since 2009, was recognized by the Fritz Pollard Alliance as the NFC Scout of the Year for 2012. More recently, his evaluations have helped the Vikings home in on prospects such as Bridgewater, Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson and Sharrif Floyd.
He will work more closely with Spielman, who still has final say during the draft, to coordinate the team’s scouting efforts. Both he and the Vikings expect it to be a seamless transition, especially with Studwell remaining with the Vikings to serve as a mentor to Stephenson while scouting the Midwest.
But despite the addition of important administrative duties, Stephenson said “scouting will still be my baby,” and his focus will be on the whole nation now.
“The thrill of putting a team together and being part of that process and watching it come to fruition on Sundays, to me that is the exciting part,” Stephenson said. “Hopefully we can build on this and continue to draft well and play well on Sundays.”