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Truly blessed


The main difference is all the difference in the world.

Ask Julian Stanford how much life has changed in the last year – shoot, in the last six months – and the answer is easy and difficult at the same time.

Sure, things are different. Vastly different.

That's the easy part, but putting in perspective just how much things have changed now that he is in the NFL? After playing at Wagner College, a school of 2,400 students in Staten Island that competes in Division I FCS, which used to be Division I-AA?

Well, that's not quite so simple.

"My life has done a complete 360," Stanford said this week as the Jaguars went through a pair of bye week practices at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field.

"It's just a big change, for the better."

A year ago, Stanford was playing in what was essentially a high school stadium.

A year ago, he'd never signed an autograph.

A year ago, his locker . . .

Well, on Tuesday, Stanford stood a few feet from his state-of-the-art locker inside EverBank Field. His shoulder pads sat on a stand, a specially-designed chair sat in front of the locker, and at the top there was his name and number – Julian Stanford, 57. In lights, no less.

Wagner seemed a long way away.

"This is way different," he said, laughing. "I've never experienced anything like this. My locker at Wagner, I'd say, probably compared to some high schools. We were a small school. We weren't funded that well for football. They're on the rise, but there was no lighted name.

"The lockers were smaller, and not as many little compartments. There was no rack for your shoulder pads. This is big, huge stuff for me."

If the lockers are glitzier and the stadiums are much, much larger, more significantly for Stanford, the players are larger, too. And faster. And stronger.

That's a big reason he went undrafted last April, and a big reason the odds seemed monstrously against him when organized team activities began last offseason. Yet, soon into the offseason, coaches and personnel people around the Jaguars realized Stanford was no ordinary undrafted free agent.

He stood out quickly because of his speed and instincts, and early in training camp, he showed a knack for making the sort of July/August practice plays that get you significant preseason playing time.

Stanford got that, and when the Jaguars' 53-man roster was announced, he was on it.

"My first preseason game, I came out and I was nervous," he said. "I'd never played on a big stage like that before. But I felt like once I settled down and we got further into the preseason, I sat back and realized, 'They put their pants on the same way I do. It doesn't matter where you came from. What matters is where you are right now.'

"We're all on this level for a reason. I feel like I belong here. I took that and it gave me a lot of confidence and I continue to play my game."

Doing that has continued to produce benefits. With veteran Daryl Smith out with a groin injury and Clint Session on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Stanford started the season essentially as the Jaguars' fourth healthy linebacker, behind middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside linebackers Russell Allen and Kyle Bosworth.

In recent weeks, Stanford has begun playing significant minutes, if not sharing the spot with Bosworth at the least playing a key role as a backup.

"When my number's called, I just take full advantage of it," he said. "I don't worry about the number of reps I'm getting. I just try to make every rep that I do get count, and play to the best of my ability."

Stanford, while getting enough time on defense to have five tackles and one for loss, has emerged as one of the team's top special teams players this season, and shares the team lead in special teams tackles with two-time Pro Bowl selection Montell Owens. Each player has seven tackles.

"They say punt and kickoff is the first snap on defense," Stanford said. "You're going to play most of your snaps there, so I try to get down there and make plays the best I can. I listen to what the coaches say, and take it one day at a time.

"I work on my techniques and fundamentals, play as fast as I can and to the best of my ability each day. I take it in stride and just give it my all. I just try to get better each day."

That's a standard approach for an NFL rookie, but make no mistake:

Stanford knows his story – to be in the NFL after being undrafted from Wagner – isn't standard NFL stuff. His teammates and coaches from Wagner, he says, follow him closely. And although you get used to anything in life in time, Stanford said no question there are moments in each week in which the difference in his world from one year to the next is striking.

"Walking into the stadium on game day, with the fans around and stuff as you walk into the gate – college for me was nothing like that," Stanford said. "You kind of walked into the stadium and it was a lot smaller – like a high school stadium. There were no fans wanting autographs or stuff like that. It's a big difference.

"I'm truly blessed to be in this situation. I've beaten the odds to be in the NFL anyway, and being from a small school like Wagner, I feel like I'm truly blessed and I want to take advantage of every opportunity."

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