When he was 7 years old, Jahleel Addae came home from football practice, put his pads back on and went up against his older brothers in their own practice in the front yard.
“We would just be banging pads,” Addae said. “I gave ‘em a pounding.”
His oldest brother Jahmile – who is six years older than Jahleel and started four years at West Virginia – laughed at that remark.
“We had some front–yard football, it was a mismatch,” Jahmile said. “Full pads, no water; I think that was probably the spark for him with the love of the game that Jahleel has. For what it’s worth, I think it went a long way.”
That “spark” and love for the game led Jahleel to becoming a captain and three-year starter for the Central Michigan football team. The senior led the Chippewas in tackles last season and was tied for first in the Mid-American Conference with four interceptions, en route to All-MAC honors.
Jahleel – a three-star running back recruit out of Tampa, Fla. – had no intention of coming to Mount Pleasant until three weeks before signing day. He was committed to West Virginia, until head coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan.
Jahmile was a coach on Rodriguez’s staff, and went to Michigan.
“A lot was going on with the staff leaving and I didn’t feel that comfortable with Jahleel and his opportunities after I left,” Jahmile said. “I think Jahleel felt more comfortable at that point of time joining Butch Jones, who he had a prior relationship with at West Virginia. Jahleel was mature enough to know as long as you play high-caliber football at a place like Central Michigan, you have the platform to be seen by NFL scouts.”
After Jahleel de-committed from WVU, he re-opened his recruitment, three weeks before signing day, after he hadn’t listened to any other offers or interests from other programs.
Jahleel said Iowa State, Iowa, Florida State – although the Seminoles never pulled the trigger – and CMU were places he wanted to play.
“I came on a visit and fell in love with (Mount Pleasant),” Jahleel said. “I saw the family atmosphere. During the visit, I had a good time with older guys. It was like having a big brother away from home. I saw the program going somewhere special, and I wanted to be part of it.”
Jahleel the calm, affectionate man
On the field, Addae’s tenacity, determination and scrappiness earned him the nickname “rat terrier” from defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin. Others call him “Predator” because of his dreads, which he has had since he was nine. His last haircut was when he began organized football at seven.
But Jahleel is not the same intimidating, hard–hitting, intense person off the gridiron.
“Not much to it, I just chill a lot,” he said. “I’m not that type to always go out; a pretty laid–back guy; total opposite on the field and off the field.”
On the field, he wears sleeves, colorful mouthpieces and shows off his dreads flowing through his helmet. At home, he is in a plain white t-shirt, shorts and has his dreads tied up. His apartment has white walls, empty floors and clean kitchen counters. He sits leaned back on his futon, one leg sitting up, one stretched out.
“People see the dreads and the beard, and so many times it gets misconstrued that he does not have his head on his shoulders – but with Jahleel, that is obviously not the case,” Jahmile said.
He went on to talk about something he said Jahleel would be mad about.
“We always joke with him how he’s always looking for affection,” Jahmile said. “He would cuddle up to mom’s arms or (would be) hugging my dad. He’s a really, really touchy kid. My kids nearly get as excited when he walks through the door as they do for me … it is because he shows that love.”
Jahleel said he always looked up to Jahmile as his role model. Both of them wore number four throughout their careers playing for the same little league and high school teams.
When Jahmile’s child played his first soccer game, he texted a picture to Jahleel showing off his son wearing number four.
“We’ve always loved that number,” Jahmile said. “I wouldn’t call it mine; he’s made it into his. I’m proud watching him wear the number four. It’s a part of us, that number. Obviously, he is going to have to give it up at the next level.”
NFL defensive backs have the choice of jersey numbers between 20 and 49, leaving the number four to quarterbacks and kickers.
Jahleel the NFL prospect
After CMU, Jahleel said he wants to use his business degree to start a training facility down south to help high school athletes make it to the next level. But Jahleel also said it has always been his dream to play in the NFL.
NFLdraftscout.com has him rated the sixth best strong safety for the draft out of 123 listed. Another website, NEPatriotsdraft.com said he has the potential to be a mid-round pick.
“He’s not the biggest, not the fastest but the total package,” said CMU defensive backs coach Kirby Cannon. “He’s a dominating player at his position.”
After older brother Jahmile’s career at West Virginia he was signed by his hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers and finished the season with the Indianapolis Colts before going into coaching. He is confident his little brother will make it to the league.
“I’d be crazy to say no – one, because he’s not my little brother anymore, he’d probably whip my behind,” he said. “Second, I think he has the motivation, perseverance and work ethic; all the things it takes in that league. I know my bro is willing to work hard. I will put my life on the fact he won’t be outworked.”
The video room is one place Jahleel tries to outwork his competition. He said he spends an hour or two a day watching for opponents’ tendencies. Last year, against Michigan State, Jahleel said he knew what route the MSU wide receiver was running based on film.
Jahleel was able to jump the route because of his film study and snagged an interception from MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins, now in the NFL. More than a year later, Addae can still explain the formation and receivers routes.
“They ran pro twins into the boundary,” he said. “(The outside receiver) runs drag, (inside receiver) runs ten-yard dig. Instead of back-pedaling, I just sat, sat, sat and I jumped it. The quarterback threw it at 10 yards and I picked it.”
Before Jahleel tries to make it in the NFL, he wants to achieve other goals for this season. He said he wants to be All-MAC again, become Defensive Player of the Year in the MAC, an All-American and win the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive back.
Jahleel noted it will be hard to achieve the Jim Thorpe Award, but he was on the preseason watch list for it.
Jahleel the RB/SS
Jahleel rushed for 3,753 yards and 41 touchdowns in his last three seasons at Riverview High School. But at CMU, former Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones moved Addae to wide receiver, then defensive back.
During his redshirt freshman season, after CMU upset Michigan State in 2009, Jones came into the meeting room and told Jahleel another change would be best for the team – and best for him.
“He said ‘we’re going to make a change and put you in the secondary’,” Addae said. “I’m like, ‘fine, if that’s what is going to get me on the field, if that’s what is going to help us win. You know what is better for me in long run’. I didn’t have a stink attitude.”
Jahleel did admit he was upset he never caught a pass and put his “shimmy, shimmy on,” but he’s happy with how it ended up. He said he still jokes with head coach Dan Enos to put him in at offense to get some touches.
Still, that day in the meeting room changed his career.
“At first, I was like dang,” Jahleel said. “They moved me to wide receiver, but I was like I can do this, its offense; same stuff. They moved me to safety, and I’m like well, I’ve never played DB in my life. It was a shock, like what is going on.”
In his first practice on that side of the ball, natural instincts took over. He was playing cover two and tight end David Blackburn ran a seam route directly to him. Jahleel broke on the ball and deflected the pass. When he came off the field, teammates praised him and told him he looked good at safety.
“That was a big confidence booster,” he said. “From that day on, it was like, ‘let’s get it’.”
Older brother Jahmile made the same switch when he got to WVU. He knows a bit about playing safety with 253 tackles and eight interceptions playing in the Big East.
Jahleel said he was able to go to him for advice.
“I never saw him play defense, so it was laughable when I found out, only because I never saw him line up on that side ball,” Jahmile said. “But when I saw him I laughed because it’s like this kid has the ability to be really good here.”
The current CMU coaching staff had no part in moving Jahleel to defense, but they are enjoying it.
“When I got here, we did not have great depth (at defensive back),” Cannon said. “He certainly had the athletic ability to be a running back, but I was very thrilled after a few days being here in spring practice and seeing him play.”
Jahleel the leader
Before this season, Jahleel’s peers voted him a captain, a decision senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff said shows a lot about what he means to the team.
“He is definitely the heart and soul and makes this team tick,” Radcliff said.
Jahleel showed how he was a leader on the field last season. When CMU beat MAC champs Northern Illinois, Addae had a career–high 18 tackles (most for a CMU player since 2003), two interceptions and a forced fumble.
“He’s instrumental to our defensive success,” Cannon said. “He’s a great player, also a very good leader, both by example and verbally; an outstanding all–around football player and person.”
Enos said Jahleel’s leadership is something that will benefit him outside of football.
“You see him try to take younger guys under his wing and coach those guys in a leadership role – that will help him in life when he leaves here,” Enos said. “He is a good person from a good family.”
His older brother said players on the team can rally around him because he is a man of his word.
“Jahleel is self–accountable,” Jahmile said. “That’s the biggest trait you need as a leader. You can’t lead others if you don’t have yourself right. You can’t talk the talk and not walk the walk. He’s not a vocal guy; rah-rah guy. But he commands respect.”
Every summer that Jahmile was at West Virginia, Jahleel stayed with him in Morgantown, W.Va.
Jahmile said that helped him mature and understand the life of a college athlete before he got to CMU. He also said it was fun for a 12–year old to be hanging out with future NFL players such as Pat White, Steve Slaton and Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Jahleel has seven more regular season games for CMU.
He said he wants to be remembered as being a hard worker and great teammate. He said he’ll miss the fans, student section and especially the great friends he’s made here – most notably former teammate and current NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown who still is encouraging Jahleel and texting him bible verses.
Jahleel is not the type to think about his legacy, but answered the question this way:
“(I’d like it to say) that I’m a hard worker; a humble kid. I show passion and love of the game on field through my play; that I’m a child of God, family man, brother, son,” he said. “And just a baller to the heart.”