JACKSONVILLE – You might only be familiar with the Ouachita Baptist Tigers since the Jaguars selected safety Gregory Junior in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft in April, but the NFL has long known of the small school in Arkadelphia, Ark. The Dallas Cowboys invited Cliff Harris to camp in 1970 and the move rewarded them with a Hall-of-Fame safety who teamed with Charlie Waters to form one of the best safety tandems in NFL history. So, while it may seem like a reach to dig for talent in an out-of-the way location, it does not to NFL scouts – and it certainly does not to Junior, who as the first Ouachita Tiger ever drafted has his eyes focused firmly on proving he belongs. Jaguars.com senior correspondent Brian Sexton caught up with Junior recently in 2022 Training Camp.
How has the transition been from Ouachita Baptist to the NFL?
I played football all my life and I've never shied away from the competition. It was kind of fast at first – it's a pretty big step up – but once I learned the playbook and got my feet out here on the grass, it felt normal. Football is football. I know how to line up and cover a wide receiver. I've always known how to do that. There is a lot to learn but I feel like I belong because I've always belonged on the football field. I'm learning every day and I feel like I'm getting better every day and that's my goal.
What's the biggest adjustment for someone coming from a small school?
The hardest part is really just the terminology. In a small school, Division II, we only have a few calls. Up here, there are lots of calls and checks and adjustments and you don't just have to know them, you have to really understand what's going on around you. It's a lot of work, but once again, it's football and I've played football and understood the game all my life. I can handle the adjustments. Coming from a DII, it's a lot to take in. We had good trainers and coaches at Ouachita Baptist, so I have always felt like I had a good support system around me, but this is the highest level of football, which means the highest level of support and facilities. It's awesome but I'm focused on the field and getting the most out of every opportunity.
How has your family adjusted to your professional football career, and have you been able to enjoy it with them?
For sure. I know on Draft Day we had a family get-together. It was a dream come true to be drafted for me, but also for my family, because they've known my dreams. They were always there for me, from peewee football to high school and on to college. This really isn't just my dream. It's kind of like my family's dream for me. I'm not sure how many football players get the chance to get so close to a dream this big, but I'm not going to miss the chance to enjoy all of it, and it wouldn't be as enjoyable if my family couldn't enjoy it also. I hope we have a lot more to enjoy in the next few years.
What has it been like to work with Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson so far? He's a guy from a small school who went undrafted – and he had a long and productive NFL career.
He has been great. It's a blessing to have the chance to work with a coach who came from a smaller school and had to earn his way up. He's been to the top and knows what it takes to get there and since I'm coming from a small school, it's great to have someone who can show me the way. I'm listening to every word he says and learning what to do and how to do it. You can tell, because he's played the game, that he really cares about the players and it's nice to have someone who can show you the way. Plus, he really wants to win and that makes it fun. I'm really glad he's my head coach and feel like this is the best place for me to chase this dream.
What's your mindset like as you get ready for your first taste of NFL competition and work to make the roster?
I really don't look beyond today. There's so much to accomplish when every single day begins – and if you aren't in the moment, then the moment will pass you by. I have a lot to learn, and I can learn it –but only if I stay focused on my assignments and techniques. I'm not the kind of player who is going to worry about what I can't control. I'm trying to work hard and have fun. I call it "staying on my road," and every single day I get up with the goal of staying on my road.
You know as a sixth-round pick from a small school that you have an uphill battle to win a job on the roster. Is your mindset to make the practice squad?
I am not thinking about that at all. I'm just focusing on stacking one good rep after another, one good day after another. Like I said: I don't spend time worrying about the competition. I embrace the competition, but I don't worry about it. I know the score, but I also know myself better than anyone else so if I can just keep putting one foot in front of the other I can get where I want to be. I want the coaches to know that when they call on me to do a job that the job will be done and that I'll do the job well. They can count on me.