LOS ANGELES — Jamil Douglas remembers what it was like to be a follower.
He stood lookout outside a doorway in an Arizona State dormitory and waited as his former teammate, Lee Adams, pilfered a teammate’s room. They swiped an Xbox, some laptop computers, other electrical equipment. They were caught on film and subsequently arrested.
But what followed turned the follower into a leader.
Douglas sat at his podium on Thursday morning at Pac-12 media days in Hollywood a changed man, chest out, eyes forward. It has been nearly four years since the lapse in judgment for a then-freshman who by all accounts was a good kid.
Four years of regret and embarrassment, restitution and community service. Four years of maturation, mentally, emotionally and physically. Four years of education, on and off the field.
“Guys know my history, they know my past and they’re not scared to ask me about it,” Douglas said. “I’m comfortable enough now, so far past it, that I’ve put it behind me, and I can be an example. I say, ‘Don’t make these decisions, but if you do, there’s always a way to move forward.’”
He moved forward by, surprisingly, looking back. He wasn’t afraid to own up to the mistake. More surprisingly, though, he moved forward not by doubling down on his efforts on the football field, but in the classroom.
Douglas, who was a good student in high school, has blossomed the last few years academically. He is a two-time Pac-12 All-Academic honoree, graduated from ASU with a criminal justice degree and a 3.92 GPA and is now a liberal studies grad student.
An NFL career is likely on the way, but for how long and at what physical toll no one knows, so Douglas has his sights on a future career working with inner-city youths.
“I understand there is life after football, which is why I’m getting my master’s degree,” Douglas said. “I’m not going to rely on the NFL to make me successful. Even if I have a great career, I’m going to be a young guy and will still have something to do with my life. You hear from guys who play six years and you never hear from them again.”
He also knows that if he is to get to the NFL, it won’t be his brawn that gets him there, but his brains. Douglas has started 27 games all over the offensive line for a reason, though he is firmly entrenched at left tackle to start the season after shifting over from left guard. At 6 feet 4 inches and 301 pounds, however, he isn’t a ready-made physical prototype who can simply bulldoze the defender in front of him.
“I learned that last year – not every lineman is 6-7, 300,” said Douglas, one of just four returning all-conference offensive linemen. “Not every offensive lineman is going to be a mauler. There are different ways that guys are successful – if you watch the NFL, all over the line there are different athletes. Knowing I can be successful and not have to be 6-7 and 300 is a good feeling.”
With three returning starters up front, the Sun Devils expect to be stout on the line, which should pay dividends for the team’s star offensive power, quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
The addition of former vaunted in-state recruit Christian Westerman, who transferred from Auburn after originally playing for the Tigers out of Chandler’s Hamilton High, could also be huge for ASU.
“Our offensive line is bigger, more physical, stronger — we just have to get them collectively playing together,” head coach Todd Graham said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in that group.”
And Douglas, most of all.
“It’s not every day an offensive lineman gets to come to this,” Douglas said. “Coach told me he wanted to come and at first I thought he was joking.”
But Douglas has a story to tell, and he’s willing and he’s able.
“It just goes to show people that no one is perfect,” Graham said. “Golly, that’s what I tell our guys all the time. The culture we’ve tried to create of winning every day is a culture I need. I’m the head football coach, and I fall short….
“But when Jamil raises his voice and tells someone something, they tend to respond very quickly.”