It is always refreshing to hear from someone who has hit the big time and yet has never forgotten where he came from.
Such is the story of former Southern Miss offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges, who played for the Golden Eagles after graduating from South Pike High School in Magnolia, Mississippi. Never did he dream at the time of his graduation in 1998 where the game of football would take him.
Bridges, whose personality is as big as his physical presence on the football field, was yet another one who found a home at the Hattiesburg campus, and his time there laid the foundation for what was to be quite the ride. The big lineman who always manages to keep a smile on his face, said there were certain events in his life that helped shape the man he has become.
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Milestone one: The First Game:
Jeremy Bridges will tell anyone that will listen that some of the best years of his life were spent playing for Southern Miss. The massive offensive lineman certainly had many schools to choose from, but it was an official visit that really sealed the deal.
"I knew all about Southern Miss before my visit, but when I came in and was accepted by the team that I didn't even play for yet, that meant a lot to me," Bridges told GoldenEaglePride.com.
"I'll never forget it, Jose Gonzalez was actually my host and he made me feel right at home.
"It was really everything about Southern Miss that made me end up going there. The way the players and coaches made you feel at home, the winning football tradition, and I loved how they played the big time schools and would always take them down. They were always the underdogs. All of that really stood out to me. Plus, I knew it was a good school where I'd get a great education and I could graduate. They always talked about the high graduation rate and that meant a lot."
It didn't take long for Bridges to get an introduction to big time football. His first start was on the road in one of the most hostile environments.
"Man I will never forget my first game," Bridges said. "We went up to Nebraska and I ran onto that field and had never seen anything like that sea of red we were in. I was in awe of it there.
"Just like we always did, we fought and fought a really good Nebraska team that was a top five team every year. We played with great pride and believed we could win. I can remember missing a key block in that game that led to our QB getting sacked and that one play really stayed with me. I realized how every detail mattered and what a big time opportunity I had.
"For some reason, that mistake stayed with me and continued to drive me every practice and game."
In 1999, the opener was another one Bridges will never forget.
"We were playing Tulane at the Rock, and it was one of the hottest days in my life and we were in all black," Bridges said. "But we loved it, we didn't care. That's how we did things at Southern Miss. It was so hot people were passing out in the stands.
"I remember opening the game with a block that knocked the guy in front of me out cold. I was sending a message at the start of that season."
He also mentioned the game at Alabama where the Eagles shut out the Tide 21-0, and winning the conference in Louisville in their brand new stadium as two more moments that really will always stay with him as he looks back.
"I can remember just how we would always play with tremendous pride," Bridges said, as he reviewed his playing days. "We had a winning atmosphere and a winning tradition. We walked on the football field and expected to win. Man, the Rock was just a really special place. There are bigger stadiums, but there is nothing like a Saturday there in Hattiesburg."
Believe it or not, it wasn't until his junior season that Bridges started even considering playing at the next level as an option.
"People don't believe me, but I never had any dreams of playing in the NFL all through my playing career until my Junior season at Southern Miss," he said.
"I just kept getting better and better and then I started hearing from agents who wanted me to go early after my Junior year. I was ranked as a top 10 offensive tackle after that season and I considered going early. But, to be honest with you, we had a real tight group and Derrick Nix was coming back for his final year and I wanted to finish what we had started at Southern Miss.
"I decided to stay one more year and graduate and finish my career the right way. I had so much fun at Southern Miss. As I look back to the bowl games, the road trips, the upsets and the time with my teammates. It was just a really fun 4 years that I was there."
Milestone two, Getting Drafted Into The NFL:
Though projected to go pretty early in the draft, the decision to stay for his senior season was one Bridges has no regrets about. The extra year of maturity and one more year in college to be with his teammates were instrumental in what was to come.
"I went down to the senior bowl and Mel Kiper had me as the number one offensive tackle coming out of that game, so I expected to go really high in the draft," he said.
"Then it came about and my name wasn't coming across as early as I would have liked, but finally I was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 6th round (185 overall) Just to hear your name called and know you've made it was a moment that will always stand out to me."
His start in the NFL was a rocky one, however, but looking back Bridges looked to his short time with the Eagles as an important one.
"I came in and to be honest I still was having to much fun and wasn't as mature as I needed to be," he said. "I didn't have my head on straight and I actually got cut."
It was Andy Reid who delivered the news with the words that still stay with him, "Jeremy, you are a great player and will be a great player in this league, it just won't be here."
For Bridges, that was just the wake up call that he needed. In September of 2004 Bridges was picked up off of waivers by the Arizona Cardinals, and it was a coach that helped steer him in the right direction.
"Coach Dennis Green was the man there and he was such a player's coach," he said. "He really took me in and taught me about life in the NFL and what it took to be a star offensive lineman in this game. I'm forever thankful for that time I was able to spend with him, and I was really devastated to hear that he had passed away in his 60's. He was a great man who really meant a lot to all of us."
From there, Bridges would go on to have a solid career in the NFL, and he would be a part of some of the more interesting games in the NFL. He was on the field when the Cardinals marched into New Orleans and took on the Saints who would knock Kurt Warner out of the game and go on to win the Super Bowl. He was blocking for Kurt Warner also when he threw for 5 TD's in a 51-45 OT win over the Green Bay Packers in the wild card game in 2009.
Of course, he'll never forget his first playoff start where he was with the Carolina Panthers.
"You just can't understand that level of football until you actually get to play in a play-off game," Bridges explained.
"It is the best in the world playing at another level where everything is on the line. It is loser go home, not like basketball where you get a series. This is it, one game to get it done and man the intensity is something I'll always take with me."
Bridges spent '06-'08 with the Panthers before having a stint with the Washington Redskins. He also was resigned again by both the Cardinals and Panthers before his football career came to a close in 2012. Looking back, the game of football took him places he never thought he'd be.
"I owe so much to the game because of what it provided for me and the memories I have of playing," he said. "Now I just hope to give back and make a difference in lives like so many that have given to me."
Milestone three, the next chapter:
Today, Jeremy Bridges is giving back. He is currently living in California where he is enjoying the most important role he's played his life, father to 4 children.
"My oldest daughter is a dancer and an actress and we moved out here to give her opportunities," he said. "I'm also coaching football as the offensive coordinator and O-Line coach for the JV. I would do varsity, but my son plays for them and I want him to have his freedom and learn from other coaches."
"We have 11 plays, and we run a pro style offense. We are really good at what we do and we run it well."
He also runs his own podcast at JB and Benny Blue Review, a perfect fit for him and his big personality and he's a star already in the podcast world. Of course, Bridges will tell anyone who will listen about his days at Southern Miss and if you follow him on twitter, you'll know that he's a champion for his former school and his blood runs black and gold.
"USM is my school, and you will find me keeping up with everything Southern Miss," he said. "I'll be watching games, streaming them, listening to them, whatever it takes to see my Golden Eagles.
"I love the team they have this year, and I really love the hire in Jay Hopson. I'm so glad he is back and I'm really happy they stayed in that coaching tree that saw so many successful years for Southern Miss. He really gets it and he's the right man for the job."
He also is excited to see the way that Hopson has already started reaching out to former players and is seeking to bring them back into the fold. Hopson knows the tradition of Southern Miss and what it will mean to his current players to have a guy like a Jeremy Bridges on the sideline rooting them on.
"I'm seeing the older guys come back, and that is so important," he said. "How great is it for a recruit to see guys who have been in the NFL, and Southern Miss has a lot, who played there and have gone on to great things. They need to see that and I'm so happy he's bringing that back."
He's also proud of the way the season has started.
"I know in that first game the first half was rough, and I think everyone was just to overexcited," he said. "Everyone wondered what Coach Hop said in the locker room, and I can tell you what he said. He just told them to calm down and play football and we will win this game. That's exactly what happened and it started the year off great.
"I love how they are running the ball and moving the chains and imposing their will. They certainly gave Florida the game plan on how to beat Kentucky."
He knows Saturday will be a challenge, but he has faith the black and gold will get it done at home.
"I'm saying 24-17 Golden Eagles in a fight."
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