Jalen Mayfield is living the childhood dream of most young boys who grew up in Michigan. Every fall, he takes the field at the Big House and plays in front of over 100,000 roaring fans. He used to wear t-shirts that donned Michigan colors, but now he wears a blue and maize jersey with his last name on the back. But, the journey to starting for his favorite team was not handed to him. And it was by no means easy.
Jalen grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and began playing football at 6 years old. His father also played football and coached Jalen, so loving football came natural.
“It was in my blood,” he says.
During freshman year of high school, Jalen played 5 games on the freshman team before being promoted to junior varsity after that team suffered a few injuries. On a Wednesday during that same year, the head coach sent a letter to Jalen’s teacher informing him that he needed to report to his office. He admits his immediate thought was that he was about to be kicked off the team. Far from that, though, his coach asked Jalen to practice with varsity. While he was a little intimidated, he decided to give it a shot and, clearly, it all worked out.
With Jalen being a key member of the offensive line, Central Catholic High School won the state championship in his junior and senior season. It was the first time in school history that the team won back to back state titles.
The recruiting process kicked off the same year Jalen won his first state championship, with his first offer coming from Iowa in January 2017. A month later, he received an offer from and committed to the University of Minnesota. Yet, one month later he made the decision to decommit and reopen his recruitment.
“I committed to Minnesota quite early, so I didn’t get to experience what most of the usual recruits experience,” he recalls.
After decommitting from Minnesota, he took a visit to Michigan and less than a month later, he committed to becoming a Wolverine. He began and ended his entire recruitment process in less than six months, but he has never looked back from that decision.
Growing up a Michigan fan and being surrounded by family who all love Michigan, the decision to play there appeared to be an easy one. Yet, one of the most important factors in his decision was the opportunity to play early in his collegiate career. Jalen knew that he wanted to make an impact as quickly as possible, and the Wolverines gave him that chance.
He got exactly what he hoped for. As a true freshman, he played in 3 games. The moment he dreamed of, however, came during the opening game of his sophomore season. It was a night game at Michigan versus Middle Tennessee State and Jalen was named a starter. In front of his family and thousands of fans, he lined up at the line of scrimmage for the first snap of a game that will forever be imprinted in his memory.
“It was a dream come true,” Jalen remembers.
Last season, Jalen started in twelve games and contributed immensely to holding back talented defensive lines and protecting his quarterback. He attributes a large part of this to his confidence on the field. While it can sometimes come off as arrogance, anyone who knows Jalen knows it is anything but. It is simply his security in his abilities and knowing the preparation he put in beforehand. Physically, he notes that his athleticism is beyond what most athletes possess.
“I have to thank my mom and day for that,” he credited with a smile.
This confidence was crucial before taking the field against Ohio State last November. Jalen was set to guard Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young, a Heisman finalist who is largely regarded as the top defensive player in college football. All week, Jalen was berated with comments about how it would be a bad game for him, and he would not be able to hold Young. He relied on his confidence and skills and blocked out the noise. After four quarters, the defensive end was held to nothing. He didn’t complete any tackles and no stats were recorded.
Playing for a power 5 program and making contributions in big games does not come without its hardships. Yet, Jalen does not consider these to be hardships, but rather reasons as to why he is so fortunate to be in the position he’s in.
Michigan is one of the top-rated public universities in the entire country, and with that prestige comes harder classes and more intense schedules. Balancing Division 1 football and world-class academics is a challenge, but Jalen feels fortunate to attend a university that places such an emphasis on his performance in the classroom. It has helped him learn how to manage his time and how to focus on more than one thing at once.
“Going to a top academic school is pretty unique, especially because here we focus on academics over athletics. Not many places can say that, especially about football,” he admits.
Next year will be his junior year, and Jalen is entering the offseason knowing there is a lot to prove this year. He wants to improve his overall strength, both upper and lower body. In addition, he also wants to sharpen his mental side of the game. He recognizes that many of the mistakes he made as a younger player were mental mistakes. Sharpening these skills will help him develop his game to make a smooth transition to the next level.
Looking back at the journey thus far, Jalen cannot help but marvel at how far he has come. He started as a recruit who was on the later side of receiving offers, was repeatedly told he was too small once he committed to Michigan and felt that no one saw his potential to make an impact. He’s had to be a self-motivator and often times pick himself up during tough times. At Michigan, he found teammates who support him and who will be in his life for the long run.
“I’ve created some of my best friends here and I don’t know where I would be without them and all their support. Honestly, I think that the relationships I’ve built here are the reason why I enjoy it so much,” he shares.
Next year could be Jalen’s last year taking the field at Michigan. With mock drafts already predicting him to be a first-round pick in the 2021 draft, he could realistically be preparing for the combine twelve months from now. Or, he could decide to finish his career and spend his senior season helping Michigan achieve their mission. No matter the decision he makes, Jalen has a lot he wants to prove this upcoming fall.
“It’s been a pretty exciting journey and I can’t wait to see what else is in store.”
Jalen’s Advice: My advice to younger players is make sure you are around people who have the same mindset as you. Every day I go in with a mentality that I want to be the best player in the country each and every day. I have 4 guys that I call my brothers now because we share the same goals and strive every day to achieve them. How you pick your circle is huge so be wise by who you surround yourself with.