Adrian Jarrell was born in Athens, Ga., and grew up in the shadows of the University of Georgia. Instead of following many of his classmates there, he instead chose Notre Dame and played there as a wide receiver from 1989 to 1994, receiving a fifth year of eligibility after breaking his arm during his Junior season. Here is my interview with Jarrell, walking down the memory lane of time spent at Notre Dame and a discussion of where life took him after football.
Q: What made you want to go to Notre Dame instead of Georgia, which was so close to home?
A: “When I was being recruited in high school to play football at the collegiate level, I was one of the top rated quarterbacks in the country. I grew up in the shadows of the University of Georgia, but UGA really wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was very familiar with many of the guys at UGA. I also saw what happened to many of these guys when their football careers ended, and they did not put education first. They did not have any skills to fall back onto and many of them were lost.”
“Notre Dame was another story. Notre Dame had just won the national title my senior year in high school. I was a kid who was really focused on getting a good education when I was in high school, so Notre Dame was a good fit. It didn’t matter where I had to travel to achieve my dreams. I was going to get there. I am grateful to my family (mom, dad, grandma, and grand-dad) for instilling discipline and work ethic in me. My high school coach Billy Henderson who was in the mold of a Lou Holtz, helped develop my talents and my mental toughness in sports. We had some great talent for high school, but he pushed all of us to be our best.”
“The list of top schools that I was looking at – Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida State, Ohio State and UCLA – were all great schools, but Notre Dame was a perfect fit for me. Not just in the area of sports, but also academically. I also had to make a decision on whether to play quarterback or receiver. The final thing that won me over was the personalities and attitudes of the players that were at Notre Dame at the time. When I made my official visit, I discovered that many of them had the same interests that I did and I already felt like I was part of the Notre Dame family. We all knew what we wanted to do in life and while at Notre Dame we were going to fulfill our dreams. One of the guys that made a big impression on me that weekend was my host, Rodney Culver. He was such a positive guy. He always saw the bright side of any situation. He was a big part of my choosing Notre Dame, and was a big part of my experience at Notre Dame.”
Q: What was your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: “There are two football memories that really stick out for me. The first of which was the game-winning touchdown catch that I made on a pass from Rick Mirer with 1:40 left on the clock in the Notre Dame Michigan game my sophomore year. It was the first game that Mirer started at ND, we were ranked #1 in the country (Michigan #2), and it was my first big contribution to the team. It was my first real opportunity to come into my own. Coach Holtz put me in the game, called a corner end zone pass play, and Rick Mirer made a perfect throw. Coach Holtz showed confidence in me to give me the opportunity to help win the game.”
“The second most memorable moment in my mind is the 1993 Notre Dame-FSU game during my fifth year. Notre Dame and FSU came into that game ranked No. 1 and No. 2 and the touchdown that I scored on the reverse in that game was a big moment for me. Florida State scored quickly on the opening drive which made the home crowd a little uneasy. The touchdown that I scored tied the game up and we never looked back after that play. I was a fifth-year senior, and it was my first game back after missing the first 10 games of the season because I tore six ribs from my sternum just six days before the season started. I worked hard all season to make a comeback and be able to play in that game. It was great to be able to get out there for the Florida State game and to be able to showcase my talent once again.”
1993: Notre Dame vs. Florida State
[Author’s note: Here is a amazing clip from the 1990 Notre Dame-Michigan State game, which shows just how remarkable Jarrell was as a wide receiver.]
1990: ND vs. MSU – The Immaculate Deflection In 1990, with Michigan State leading No. 1 ranked Notre Dame 19-14 late in the 4th quarter, Rick Mirer hit Adrian Jarrell on a pass that deflected off the chest of Spartans’ defensive back Todd Murray near the goal line. The Irish went on to score and win 20-19.
1990: ND vs. MSU
Q: What was your biggest challenge at Notre Dame?
A: “Probably getting used to the demands of playing football and keeping up with my education at the same time. I played wide receiver behind Rocket and we often rotated taking snaps during games. If anything happened to Rocket, I had to be ready to go. As a result of that, the coaches were on me pretty hard. We started practice in July, but once school started in August you have to get right into the books and keep it going. Playing football at Notre Dame during that time it was very competitive, but so were our academic responsibilities.”
“Injuries were also a big setback for me, but I always felt like I would be out there in no time and be able to contribute once again. Typically when you break your arm, you are out for six weeks and then back in the lineup again. There was never any doubt in my mind that after my six weeks of recovery and rehab that I’d be back at it. Unfortunately, I had a slow-healing break and I ended up missing a year of playing time. Mentally it was devastating to have to sit out that long. However, I always felt like I was going to get back to top form once I was healthy.”
“My second injury was probably the most crushing to me because it occurred when I had just began my fifth year. I was ready to finally have the opportunity to fully showcase my talent. I had put everything behind me once again, and was of the frame of mind that this is going to be the year. My parents had booked several trips to South Bend to see me play. Then, the week before the season started, I tore several ribs off my sternum in a scrimmage a mere 6 days before kickoff. After telling my family how I was going to be starting this year, I then had to call them back and say, ‘Maybe you might want to cancel a couple of those trips back.’ It’s one thing if you don’t get to play because you didn’t earn the opportunity to play. It’s another thing when you have earned it, but never get to fulfill it.”
“(My) freshman year was a big adjustment to me overall. Dorsey Levens was my roommate freshman and sophomore year. We lived in Morrissey Hall, and were shocked when we first saw our room. We had both visited the best programs in the country when we were looking at colleges, and the dorms there had very spacious rooms. Our room at Notre Dame could not have been any bigger than 10 x 10 or maybe 10 x 12. We both walked into this room and said to each other ‘Oh my. How is everything going to fit?’ Then we look across, and realize that our room is right across from the rector’s room. We are living next door to a Priest? We both looked at each other, how did this happen? So we go talk to the Rector to see if we can get our room changed and he kicked us out of his office. That was the beginning of many adjustments freshman year!”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about not getting drafted and your decision to play Arena League football?
A: “I had a feeling I would not get drafted into the NFL, but I still knew in my heart that I was talented enough to play in the NFL. If only my injuries had not held me back to the extent that they did during my time at Notre Dame. Once it was confirmed that I was not going to play in the NFL, my agent called the office of the arena football team in Las Vegas, and it turned out that one of the guys responsible in finding talent for the team was Ian Welch, a Notre Dame graduate. He graduated from Notre Dame MBA in 1990, the year of my big catch during the Michigan game, and he knew exactly who I was. Even though I was excited about getting the opportunity to continue playing football in the Arena Football League, it was still tough not getting the opportunity to showcase my talent in the NFL.”
Q: How did you like playing Arena Football?
A: “My experience playing arena football was great! It allowed me to pursue my NFL dream for a few more years and get football out of my system. Especially, after the NFL didn’t work out immediately after college. I played in the arena league for five years. The bad thing about being the #1 wide receiver on an Arena Football League team is there is not much running the football. It is all about the pass and you are catching passes on almost every play. The wide receiver takes the pounding instead of the running back. So there were a lot of bumps and bruises as a result.
When you are a wide receiver in the NFL, in a regular season game you might catch three, four or five catches. When you are a wide receiver for an arena football team, you are averaging 10 to 12 catches a game. You have to learn to work within the space restrictions of playing in an arena, and everything about the game works fast. And with that comes a lot of bumps and bruises. Kurt Warner was playing arena ball the same time that I was, and we used to play against him before he moved on to the NFL. But those years allowed me to display may receiving skills with a 90 plus catch season and achieve the 1,000 yard season that eluded me at Notre Dame due to injury.”
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: “During my fifth year at Notre Dame I finished just six courses short of receiving my MBA. In the early years after graduation, if I would have gone back to Notre Dame, I could have easily finished it. But I did not want to pass up the opportunity to keep playing ball in the Arena Football League. When I finally had the time to finish my degree somewhere, most schools wanted me to either start over, or were to give me nine credits towards my degree.”
“While I was playing arena ball, football only took up four months of your year, and it did not pay enough to last you until the next season started. In 1995 I started working during in the off-season in the finance industry, and every off-season I would return to my job. Right now I am a Senior Financial Analyst for L-3 Communications. I analyze the financial performance of the company through performance indicators and the financial statement. My degree from Notre Dame is a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in MIS, but I am more of an accounting guy with a niche in information systems. The financial analysis industry is really a combination of accounting and MIS. ERP systems (SAP, Peoplesoft, JD Edwards, Orcale, etc…) drive the world today.”
“The best thing about being a Notre Dame alumni is that any time you meet someone else who is a Notre Dame alumni, you have an instant connection with them. I ended up joining the Notre Dame Alumni Club in Dallas, to reestablish some of these connections and eventually went on to become the treasurer for the club in 2006 and 2007. There are 500 active members within the club, and it is a great way to reconnect with Notre Dame.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “My strongest memory is of Coach Holtz is all of the times that he stood in front of us, giving us one of his famous speeches about life, bringing us all together. He always talked to us about sports and football, but always made it apply to life. He also did this meditation every Friday night to prepare us for Saturday’s game that most usually put us all to sleep! Coach Holtz is a very inspirational guy. He had a special gift at being able to bring us all together, talking about the value of the Notre Dame family. He is one of the best sources of Notre Dame history around! He knows the dates and years of when everything happened at Notre Dame. He’s like a walking Notre Dame encyclopedia.”
“Not only was Lou Holtz a great leader for us, but during my years at Notre Dame, we had great leadership amongst ourselves. We had great role models in our senior leaders. The way the guys carried themselves, Tony Rice, Bob Dahl, Tim Ryan, Dean Brown, Irv Smith, Ned Bolcar, Rocket Ismail, Chris Zorich, Ricky Watters, Anthony Johnson, Rod West, Pat Terrell, Djuan Francisco, they all lead by example. The coaches may have set the tone, but the players continued with it on and off the field.
Lou Holtz ran the program in such a way that the players were an integral part of it, and passed their leadership skills down to the younger players. They showed them the way and taught them the standard of excellence by which we live. At Notre Dame, we were like a family. When you got to Notre Dame, you knew you were talented. Then the upperclassmen like Derrick Brown and Todd Lyght came along and showed you what you need to be doing to be successful: the new level of talent that is expected now that you are a member of the Notre Dame football team.”
I’d like to give a big thank you to Adrian Jarrell for spending some time with me. Next week I will talk to running back Reggie Brooks.