Former NFL Football Player Jerris McPhail Shares Life lessons

Jerris McPhail, former professional running back with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, believes anything is possible if you believe it.

McPhail says, “My motto is ‘With God first, and hard work, you can’t lose.’ “

McPhail feels that motto has helped him to excel in every phase of his life.  As a child growing up, McPhail was raised in a broken home.  He remembers bill collectors knocking on his door, threatening to evict his family.  He remembers running from an abusive stepfather.  He remembers the struggles that his mom had to endure raising a family on her own.  He remembers not having the same shoes and other things as his friends had.  He remembers playing football at Clinton High School, where the local community rallied behind him at every game.

“Those experiences and struggles are what motivated me,” McPhail said.  “I could have said, ‘Poor me, my daddy’s not here; poor me, my mom comes from the projects; and poor me, I don’t have what my friends have.’  I could have let those things define me, but instead I let them motivate me.”

After high school McPhail received a full scholarship to Wake Forrest University to play football.    Despite being only three hours away, he felt homesick.  He eventually chose to leave the school and find work in a factory back home.   He soon realized that to make it out of the life he had always known, he would have to return to college.  With the help of his high school coach and some connections he had at the University of Mount Olive (formerly University of Mount Olive), McPhail was offered a position on the Trojan basketball team.

“Mount Olive gave me a chance,” McPhail said.  “I remember the 4:30 AM runs, the basketball practices with Coach Clingan at the helm, and the way that everyone seemed to know my name at the College.  I really enjoyed my time at Mount Olive.”

But the one thing that Mount Olive did not have was the one thing that McPhail missed the most…FOOTBALL.  He left UMO and walked on at ECU.  In his senior year at ECU, McPhail rushed over 1000 yards.  That’s when he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, and later played with the Detroit Lions.  An injury in 1999 required McPhail to retire from the game of football, and he moved back home to Clinton, NC.

“People always ask me why I came back to Clinton, and I tell them, if you can’t find support at home, you won’t find it anywhere. “

Back in his hometown, McPhail has immersed himself in his community.  The 41-year old is married to his wife Mahogany, and they have two daughters, Jizzel and Jene.  McPhail’s entrepreneurial spirit has helped him to open two day cares, both of which are five star centers; he owns and operates Grid Iron, a 24-hour gym and nutrition center; and he also volunteers in the community.  This past Thanksgiving marked the fourth consecutive year that McPhail has spearheaded a free Thanksgiving meal for those less fortunate.  This year he fed over 150 people, with his mom and his wife by his side, giving back to the community that always rallied behind him.

McPhail shares his advice about achieving what you want in life.  “One thing that I would advise everyone is to be self-motivated and don’t give up on your dreams. I feel that you can speak things into existence. I always told myself I was going be a professional athlete. And before I knew it, I was catching touchdown passes from Dan Marino. Every stage of my life, I prayed; first to be a high school superstar, then a college superstar, then to make it the NFL.  I was fortunate enough to have my prayers answered.”

And although his daughters are only 3 and 12, McPhail already has aspirations for them.  “I want them to do whatever they have a passion for. I want them to expect nothing but appreciate everything.  And, I want to instill in them that education is something that people can never take away from you.”

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College. For more information, visit