Jamari Lattimore needed a break. He certainly deserved one.
M.D. Jennings' career as a teacher and coach has been put on hold.
Lattimore and Jennings are two of the surprise names on the Packers' 53-man roster. Lattimore and Jennings joined linebacker Vic So'oto as undrafted rookies on the 53-man roster of the reigning Super Bowl champions. That's an uncommon number of rags-to-riches stories on a roster as deep as the Packers'.
How did they do it?
"Toughness and heart," Lattimore said.
Always, it has been about toughness and heart in Lattimore's life.
"I have no parents. My grandmother passed in February. My mom passed six days after giving birth. My father was in prison. My grandmother was that mother figure. Now it's just me. Lot of adversity," Lattimore said.
So, when he got the word that he was officially in the league, he called the one girl in his life.
"The first person I called is my girlfriend. She couldn't speak. She's the only female figure in my life right now," Lattimore said.
Jennings called his mother with the news.
"My mom says she loves teachers just as much as football players. She said she's glad I didn't call it quits after not being drafted," Jennings said.
Does your mother know football players make a lot more money than teachers, Jennings was asked?
"Yeah, she knows," he said, laughing.
Jennings seems to be in perpetual smile. He has a naturally sheepish personality, but there was nothing sheepish about the way he played in training camp and in the preseason. At a position where the competition was intense, Jennings just kept making plays. By training camp's end, it was clear to see he was in the hunt for a roster spot.
"It's a blessing, being able to live my dream. A lot of people dream about this but it never comes true," Jennings said.
"Become the best player I can be and stay in this business as long as I can," he said.
Lattimore is a classic run-and-hit style of linebacker. He has the speed – 4.6 at his pro day – but few thought he had the size, 6-2, 230.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers favors speed and instinct, and speed and instinct are Lattimore's strengths.
"I walked into the locker room (on Saturday) and Greg Jennings said I guess you guys made it. Me and So'oto walked in together and (Jennings) said you guys survived, you made it," Lattimore said of when and how he got the news.
He knew he was a longshot, but he started to gain confidence after having played in a preseason game.
"After the Cleveland game, it just started coming to me, and the feeling of playing at the next level, it felt great, and I felt I could play. Even though I'm undersized, I still had the confidence to go out and play," Lattimore said. "I was wishing for the best. I was looking to go to work each and every day and make my chances higher than the day before."
"I had an interception in the Cleveland game and a couple of open-field tackles against Arizona and Kansas City," Jennings said of what might've turned the tables in his favor.
In a normal year, both players would've been signed to free-agent contracts immediately after not having been drafted but, because of the lockout, they had to wait three months before signing a contract.
"It was nerve-racking. I was offered a job at my old high school to coach and teach. I leaned toward it for a little while. I decided to pursue my dream," Jennings said.
"At one point, she had lost her job," Lattimore said of his and his girlfriend's wait during the lockout. "I started looking for a job. I was training for five, six months straight. The question was: Was it really for me? I had a couple of CFL job offers. I just toughed it out," he said.
Having realized his dream, Lattimore talked of turning his attention to the next goal.
"We made a couple of plays in the preseason, but we can make more. I want it all. I wanna be a star," he said.