Vikings' lead scout had interesting journey to new position

  • Article by: MATT VENSEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2014 - 8:13 AM

Jamaal Stephenson’s route to the Vikings had stops in the Ivy League and fashion industry.

hide

Scouting director Jamaal Stephenson took in the action during Vikings minicamp in June.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • gstubbe@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Before he walked away from the football team at Brown, before he bailed on a job as a fashion buyer and before he rose through the Vikings front office, Jamaal Stephenson had no plans for a career in football, and he certainly had no idea he would one day play a role in the Vikings drafting college stars such as Teddy Bridgewater and Xavier Rhodes.

Stephenson can only laugh at the winding, stop-and-go journey that led him to the Vikings, who promoted him to director of college scouting in May after Scott Studwell stepped aside to spend more time with family.

“I’m still kind of awed by everything that has happened. Not because I didn’t think I would be successful at whatever I ended up doing. I just never imagined it would have been this,” Stephenson said. “I’m happy that it’s football, something that I’ve grown to love.”

While the Ivy Leaguer never sought out his unlikely career in scouting, Stephenson has shown an ability to identify talent during his time with the Vikings, and his new job title reflects how instrumental he has been in the organization’s recent draft successes.

“We’ve been together for eight years now, and I’ve just seen him progress,” said General Manager Rick Spielman, who joined the staff in 2006. “We felt his work ethic, his passion for what he does, his evaluation skills made him the best candidate for the job.”

Stephenson played many sports, including youth football, growing up in Goldsboro, N.C., a small city an hour southeast of Raleigh. But you were most likely to find him shooting jumpers in the back yard.

“Basketball was really my first love,” he said. “In our area, basketball was king.”

A standout small forward, he was certain his future was on the hardwood. That changed when his high school football coach, Elvin James, cornered him in the gym before his junior year and convinced him that football gave him the best chance at a scholarship.

Stephenson, who became a wide receiver and safety at Goldsboro High School, always had been mesmerized by the tactical aspects of the game. His mother, Brenda Williams-Chavis, used to sneak into his bedroom to turn off his television when he fell asleep watching “Monday Night Football.”

But on-field success did not come quickly, so he didn’t feel the same fervor for football that he did with basketball. Still, the game gave him an opportunity to get an Ivy League education at Brown.

Things did not start as planned there, though. He tore a hamstring during the first day of camp his freshman year. Then there was a coaching change. Frustrated with his role, he told new coach Mark Whipple he wanted to switch to offense. After playing sparingly at fullback as a redshirt freshman, Stephenson quit the team.

“I had a big head. I had gotten a scholarship offer to go play somewhere else [at Buffalo], and I thought it would be a piece of cake,” Stephenson said. “It wasn’t.”

After Stephenson sat out the spring, Whipple welcomed him back. He settled in as a starting cornerback his redshirt junior year. He wasn’t the fastest player — his fellow scouts joke that he was a “box cornerback” — but he roughed up receivers at the line while earning All-Ivy League honors.

More importantly, Stephenson’s love for the game was kindled.

Football takes hold

After four years at Brown, Stephenson was poised to graduate. He had a few job offers lined up, but despite having no interest in fashion, he took a job at the May Company, where he started training to become a buyer for clothing stores such as Filene’s Basement.

“I did it for a week and I realized it wasn’t really for me,” the 38-year-old said.

Stephenson still had a year of eligibility and Whipple and his defensive coordinator, Don Brown, had called him all summer, trying to coax him into using it. He came back for his senior season, picked off six passes and earned all-conference honors again.

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.”

Seamless transition

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.”



 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close