It shouldn't have taken this long. Deji Karim should've been a star player a long time ago.
Karim rose to stardom this past Sunday in Buffalo where, in his pro debut, Karim returned four kickoffs for 145 yards and a 36.3 yards-per-return average and rushed 15 times for 70 yards. He was nearly unstoppable, especially on his kickoff returns, and Jaguars fans immediately became excited about the kid from Southern Illinois.
"I'm trying to get used to it. I don't like that much attention," Karim said of his new-found fame, smilingly.
This is heady stuff for a young man who had to fight his way up through the junior college ranks and out of the shadows of the Missouri Valley Conference. Along the way, however, he had to learn a harsh lesson.
"If I would've taken care of business, I probably would be used to this stuff. You've got to put the work in to get what you want," Karim said.
He was a high school football star in Oklahoma City, but he didn't take care of business in the classroom and when the big-time football schools came calling, they took a look at his grades and never returned.
"I was playing football, worried about girls, just hanging out. I would go home, play video games, knowing I had homework. I'd wake up the next morning and I'd rush and try to do homework before I went to class. It was poor time management," he recalled of his high school days.
"The light went on when I signed that paper going to NEO," he said, referring to Northeastern Oklahoma, a junior college. "Everyone in the state was saying this kid should be going somewhere big and I'm signing a letter to go to NEO. That's when I said this won't happen again."
At NEO, he changed. He was a star on the field and in the classroom.
"I got A's and B's. I graduated early. I piled 20-some hours into my last semester," he said. "You have to have a lot of mental toughness. You're not playing in front of a lot of people. One mistake and you're gone. You choose the wrong path, they'll get rid of you quick."
For what NEO did for him, which is to say they gave him a second chance, a last chance, Karim is deeply appreciative. They allowed him to attract Southern Illinois, which led to him being a sixth-round draft pick by the Jaguars.
"When Jacksonville called, I was happy. I wouldn't rather be any other place," Karim said.
His road to the NFL was through the shadows of small-time football. His breakout game was against a school named Southwest Baptist, early in 2009. He rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Agents started calling him. The NFL scouts started taking notice.
"I just wanna build; keep on helping in whatever way shape or form. I'm trying to stay even keel. It feels great. My mentality will not change," he said.
So, what goes through his head as he keeps his eyes glued to a football tumbling through the air, knowing that as he's doing that 11 angry men are rushing toward him?
"First off, don't drop it. As soon as I get it, it's time to roll. You have 10 guys in front of you sacrificing their bodies for you. You wanna do your part," he said. "I want to leave a mark of being one of those guys that was great. I want my name to be as clean and as successful as can be. I don't want to be tainted at all."