Jamaal Symmonetts long journey to NC Central

Senior offensive lineman overcame inexperience, injury to star for Eagles

N.C. Central right tackle Jamaal Symmonett has vague memories of last year’s Celebration Bowl.”I was home and watched a little bit of it. I didn’t really get to watch much, a few clips here and there,” the fifth-year senior recalled.Despite winning a share of the 2015 MEAC title and defeating co-champions NC A&T in the year-end rivalry game, the bowl snubbed the Eagles in favor of the Aggies.The hard feelings weren’t the reason that Symmonett only watched a handful of plays from the bowl, however.”It’s hard to get service over there,” he explained.Symmonett hails from Nassau in the Bahamas, where it’s hard to get any college football on television, let alone the showcase game from the FCS division.This year, however, the game will likely be must-see television for island residents, since one of their native sons will be leading the Eagles against SWAC champion Grambling.Many of Symmonett’s friends and families will need a tutorial, he says with a laugh.”We don’t play football back home,” he said. “Semi-pro only. In high school, it’s just regular sports: basketball, softball, soccer, tennis.”The fact that, after five years as a member of Central’s team, Symmonett still doesn’t think of football as a “regular sport” is evidence that the game has a way to go before getting a foothold in the Bahamas.That was a problem for Symmonett, when he first came to the States. While most of his high school teammates had grown up watching and playing the game, he was unfamiliar with the sport.”Football was new for me, coming from the Bahamas,” he said. “I lived there for 16 years of my life. Then I got the chance to play football in Florida. I went to Miami for two years, in high school at Miami Senior High School. Then I traveled to private school [Champagnat Catholic], where I got an offer from Central.””And then the rest is just history,” he added with a smile.That history has had plenty of ups and downs, however. Most offensive linemen need time to adjust to the size and speed of the college game, let alone one whose entire football experience amounted to a handful of games.It would make sense that a college program would want to redshirt a player like Symmonett to allow him to continue to develop. Of course, given his brief history with the sport, Symmonett didn’t know that.”Wow,” Symmonett said, thinking of his early struggles at the college level. “In 2012, my redshirt year, I didn’t get to play. I was a little bit upset.”The next year, he saw the field for six games, including three as a starter. Then what would become one of the recurring themes of his college career was introduced.”When 2013 came along, I got to play in a few games,” he said. “Then I had season-ending shoulder surgery. I tore both labrums, my left and right shoulder. 2014, I say out the whole season with the double shoulder surgery.”By his redshirt junior year, Symmonett was recovered from the shoulder injury and became a fixture on the line. That doesn’t mean the injuries stopped coming.”I played in 2015 with double ankle sprains,” he said. “So I didn’t get to play at my full potential. Then, January past, I had bicep surgery.”The latest injury could have kept him out for his final year of eligibility, but Symmonett refused to allow it.”He’s battled injuries throughout his career,” said quarterback Malcolm Bell. “He didn’t want to sit out his senior year. He wanted to play and help out the team. That was a great thing, and I’m so proud of him.”Symmonett started at right tackle all season, enduring the pain and earning second-team All-MEAC honors.”I was up and down, but I never gave up,” he said. “It was just adversity. Something I always told myself and my teammates — I always said I’d never be a statistic. So I always put that in my mind — you know, I’m going to fight this battle. God was on my side. I never gave up. I kept working at it and working at it, and this was just my year to shine.”In the process, he became a role model for his team.”He’s meant a lot to us over the course of the last five years,” said coach Jerry Mack. “He was a guy that, when we came in [as the new coaching staff following the 2013 season], was a little banged up. He was trying to cope with a couple of impressive surgeries, but over the last couple years, he has just become a staple of our offensive line. He comes to work. He has a workman’s mentality. One thing about him, he’s refused to go down this year. He’s been nicked up, banged up, but he’s made every practice and made sure he’s been in every game.”Symmonett helped lead Central to a win over A&T in an emotional season finale. Not only did the win earn Central the MEAC title and a bid in the Celebration Bowl, but it was also senior day for Symmonett and his classmates.The day was even more poignant for Symmonett. Not only was it his last home game, it was also the first time any of his family from the Bahamas got to see him play.”That’s not entirely true,” Symmonett corrected. “In high school, in Florida, a couple of my cousins came to see me play once, but up here, in North Carolina, no one has ever seen me. I’ve never really had anyone to watch me play from my family.”With the lack of knowledge and coverage of the sport in the Bahamas, plus the fact that Symmonett plays offensive line, a relatively anonymous position, unless something goes wrong, no one back home really knows much about what he’s been doing the last five years.”So I’m just this little shadow to them,” he said. “Everybody [back home] is saying, ‘Is he any good? Is he playing?’ When I go home, everybody always ask me, ‘Do you get tackles? Do you get sacks?’ I have to explain that, no, I play offense. That’s always the question though.”While his career may not bring him fame back in the Bahamas, his teammates and coaches appreciate Symmonett’s contributions.”He gives maximum effort every time he steps on the field,” Coach Mack said. “Those kind of guys, you can win with. Those kind of guys, you can win at a high level with. He’s a little underrated. A lot of those other guys get a lot of attention, but Jordan Symmonett — he’s where it starts.”Even if it took him a long journey to get to the starting line.”I really love the game now,” he said. “I’m glad I got to experience it.”