On Monday night, the Redskins played host to the New York Giants. Obviously, as a Redskins fan it did not turn out the way I had hoped (it actually turned into a living nightmare) but one small aspect of the matchup that stood out to me was not what happened on the field, but who is involved.
In this case, I took a particular interest in the fact that a man in the NFL is representing my hometown of Mayo, Maryland.
A current member of the New York Giants practice squad, offensive tackle Jacob Bender, grew up in Mayo with the hopes and the means to make it into the NFL. As a young man, Bender played for the Edgewater Blue Devils, the local youth league team that I grew up playing for as well.
In high school, Bender chose to go to DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, as opposed our local public school, South River High School, which is in Edgewater. That move paid off for Bender, considering the only modern football player of note to attend South River was John Kaleo, who had an illustrious career as a quarterback at the University of Maryland and the Arena Football League. DeMatha currently has more alumni in the NFL than any other high school in the country, with Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook being the most notable.
After graduating from DeMatha, Bender chose to attend Nichols State in Louisiana, where he started 31 of 43 games and earned All-America and All-Southland Conference honors as a senior.
In April of 2007, Bender’s NFL dreams had come true after being drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round. That season, Bender was inactive for 14 games but appeared in six special teams plays in the two games he was activated. After the 2008 preseason, he was waived by the Jets but was snatched up by the New England Patriots the next day and was put on their practice squad.
In November of that year, the San Francisco 49ers signed Bender away from the Patriots and onto their active roster. Bender stayed in San Francisco until the conclusion of this past training camp, which led him to signing with the Giants in mid-September.
Although Bender is on an NFL team that is on my bottom-five list that I’d like to see a Mayo representative employed by, it still gives me great satisfaction to see our hometown actively being represented in what is, in my opinion, the greatest sports showcase of all.
Since the Redskins were playing the Giants this week, I talked to Bender this weekend about several topics, including his connections to several Redskins players, how he made it from Mayo to the NFL and what lies ahead for his NFL future, among other topics.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
Time Disclaimer: The questions were asked over the weekend and were answered on Monday night, hence the reference to the game in future tense.
THN: Describe your path from growing up in Mayo to being drafted by the New York Jets in 2007 to sticking around with the Giants now.
JB: It has been a long and challenging, yet extremely fun, journey from little Mayo all the way to the “Big City.” I am very thankful to God and blessed to have an opportunity as I do to play in the NFL. I have bounced around a few teams, but I am determined and [am] working my tail off every chance I get to earn a spot back on an active roster in the NFL.
THN: When you were playing for our local pop warner football team, the Edgewater Blue Devils as a young man, did you ever think it would lead to a career in the NFL?
JB: I played for the Blue Devils back when I was 120 lbs. [It] was the first time I stepped out under a blue uniform. Back then it was more about having fun and doing well in school so that I would be allowed to play ball then it was me making it to the NFL. However, it has always been a dream of mine to play in the League since I could remember.
THN: Who and what do you give credit to for your ability to make it to the NFL?
JB: I give credit to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for pulling me and giving me strength to make it to the position I am in now. It has not at all been an easy ride and I didn’t just miraculously make it to the NFL, though. I worked extremely hard and made some big sacrifices, (although not so much a sacrifice when you consider the reward).
THN: Even though your brother went to South River High School like I did, you chose to go to DeMatha. What was behind that decision and how were you able to do it every day?
JB: DeMatha was a decision that my entire family helped with. The traveling arrangements and all those long commutes in that metropolitan traffic were tough but we managed to get it done.
THN: How does it feel to be the only Mayo native in the NFL? Do you feel a different type of pride being in the NFL given you’re from an area that no one else in the league is from?
JB: It feels great to be in the NFL. The fact that I am from Mayo just adds some sweetness to the whole deal. I feel a great deal of pride to be representing Mayo in the NFL. There are only about 1,700 players in the whole league, so wherever you are from, there are not too many others of your neighbors in the league with you.
THN: Does having former teammates Kareem Moore (Nicholls State) and Byron Westbrook (DeMatha High School) on the Redskins give the Redskins-Giants games a little more meaning to you?
JB: Kareem and Byron are good friends of mine. I graduated and played high school football with Byron and still workout with him and other players from around the area with Mac James from Athletic Dominance out of Bowie Sport Fit Club. I shared a conference championship with “K-Mo” in 2005 when we won the Southland Conference Championship, so this game does have a little bit of a personal hint to it. Giants-Redskins is a huge game in itself already, not to mention the playoffs.
THN: Even though practice squad players don’t travel with the team on road trips, will you still make it down to Maryland and watch the Monday night game with your family considering the majority of them grew up Redskins fans?
JB: I won’t be making the trip to Washington this week. My family will root for my team even though they have been Redskins fans since I was a young boy. It’s a no-brainer if you asked anyone in my family who they would root for when my team is playing.
THN: The Giants started out strong at 5-0 this season and were considered by many the front runners for the NFC East title and were even labeled the best team in the NFC. But since then, the team has slid to a 7-6 record. What has been behind the team’s recent and surprising struggles?
JB: We did get off to a great start at 5-0, then lost a number of games, but sometimes things like this happen in the NFL. No, we are not ok with losing all those games, nor are we gonna accept the way of a losing team. We are a tough bunch of guys and will fight our way throughout the season and hopefully into the post season.
THN: Coach Coughlin made a surprising move by demoting defensive end Osi Umenyiora two weeks ago. How has that changed Osi’s mentality about the game and did that move send a message throughout the team?
JB: I’m not sure how Osi was affected by the decisions that were made by the coaches. You would have to talk to Osi to get that answer.
THN: What are your prospects for returning to the Giants next season? Have they expressed an interest in bringing you back?
JB: My plans are to finish out the year as strong as I can and improve my abilities as much as possible going into the offseason. As far as me returning or not, my agent will handle that, although I would be greatly appreciative to have a chance to earn a spot on the Giants Roster. I would like to stay a Giant and only time will tell.
Tags: All-America, All-Southland Conference, Arena Football League, Brian Westbrook, Byron Westbrook, DeMatha High School, Edgewater Blue Devils, Jacob Bender, John Kaleo, Kareem Moore, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, philadelphia eagles, San Francisco 49ers, South River High School