The expectations that come with great potential can often be daunting for many athletes. The window of opportunity to utilize their physical abilities is relatively short, and the competition and distractions that time makes living up to their talent all the more difficult. When a player hasn't yet realized his potential, may times he finally does because he was challenged by a coach somewhere a long the way. Other times the motivation to improve comes from within the player himself. For Michigan junior Jamar Adams, it has been a combination of the two.
"I think it was both," Adams said. "When I came in, I had high expectations for myself. When I didn't play up to what I thought I should be playing up to, I was questioning myself saying what do I have to do to get there. The coaches were challenging me saying too. They were saying' you should be doing this and you should be doing that. Both things helped me improve.'
The staff member that has challenged Adams the most in his Michigan career has been his position coach and new defensive coordinator, Ron English. The genesis of their tight bond was the interaction they had in Ann Arbor four years ago when Adams was a standout at Michigan's summer camp prior to his senior year. After observing the youngster's performance against some the top high school prospects in the country and receiving his commitment months later, the coaching staff identified Adams as one of the freshmen with the potential to contribute right away. When his production didn't materialize as quickly as initially anticipated, English pushed his young pupil to give more.
"He always would say, 'do you realize how big and physical you are?'….'man you're 210 pounds!'," Adams recalled laughing. "He was always talking to me about how big I am. He wanted to see so much out of me. He wanted to get it out right now. He would say, 'one day the light is going to turn on in your head and you're going to start to get all of this.' The light is starting to come on and I'm starting to play a lot better. I know he is going to continue to push me because he feels like I have so much more to play up to. Like I said, he just knew what I should have been and what I could be. He won't let me be anything less."
When Adams wasn't taking his cues from English he was soaking in the knowledge and habits of a few upperclassmen. He found the examples set by former receiver Jason Avant and former corner Marlin Jackson to be pivotal to his development.
"I think Jason was instrumental in continuing to build my confidence," Adams said. "He would talk to me and help me understand the things I needed to do to be successful. I think Marlin Jackson was instrumental because I watched how he played… the intensity of how he played and the way he practiced. Those two guys really showed me how to practice like an All-Big Ten player…an All-American type of player. "
Adams first noticed all his hard work resulting in better play on the field during the middle of last season. His only problem was maintaining it.
"I think in the Penn State game (in 2005) I felt like, 'man I can really do this….this isn't something that's out of my reach," he said. "But still being a young player, it was kind of spotty. I could play good here and there, but then I'd go in a rut. This year I'm trying to be a player that plays good all of the time and I think it starts in practice…focusing every play."
A strong offseason in which he was one of the defense's best players has Adams on his way to providing the kind of consistency that eluded him last season. He now feels on top of his game and believes that will allow him to not only focus on his own play, but that of his teammates as well
"I think a lot of my growing pains were mental…some physical too…but a lot were mental," Adams said after his six tackle, one sack, one pass break-up performance in the opener against Vanderbilt. "I felt like I was out there and my goal was to play good, but also help my teammates to play good. I tried to communicate a lot out there and make sure the defense was in the right call and guys were in the right positions covering the right guys and making all the right checks. I think that was one of the biggest advancements that I made because I was able to help the defense out a little bit more with the mental part of my game."
If things go as planned for Adams, his strong play last Saturday is only a sign of things to come.