Jason Pierre-Paul: Proof that raw talent is sometimes more than enough

Jason Pierre-Paul. (nfl.com)
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Each time the Giants or Jets play a football game, Capital will write about a home-team member who took part in it. This post is about Jason Pierre-Paul, who played defensive end in the Giants' 37-34 win on Dec. 11 over the Dallas Cowboys.

The fact that Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t one of the best-known players in the N.F.L. doesn’t make him an “emerging star.” He had already emerged as a star before last night, when he played one of the best games by a Giants defender in recent memory.

Where to begin when singing the praises of the 22-year-old whose Twitter handle is @DatBoyJPP? How about at the end, when he muscled his way past Cowboys blockers and propelled his 6-foot-5 inch frame skyward, reaching just high enough to get a hand on Dallas’ game-tying field goal attempt?

It was an emblematic moment on a night where Pierre-Paul repeatedly bailed out a disjointed Giants defense. The Cowboys scored points on six of their twelve offensive possessions last night. On the six drives on which they didn’t score points, four ended with plays by Pierre-Paul: There was his safety in the first quarter, his forced fumble in the second, his sack in the third, and the blocked field goal at the end.

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The fact that Pierre-Paul is the best player on the defense has been evident all season long. He now ranks fifth in the N.F.L. with 12.5 sacks, nearly twice as many as Osi Umenyiora, who has the second-most on the Giants, with seven. And the blocked field goal was no fluke: Pierre-Paul has batted down six passes this year, tied for second in the league going into yesterday and more than more than twice as many as any other Giant.

And, of course, as NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth noted during a telecast in which he praised Pierre-Paul incessantly, he’s only getting better. He’s a second-year player, but because he played only one year of major Division I college football after two years of junior college, he’s less experienced than even that would suggest. Right now, his effectiveness resides in his disproportionate genetic allotment of speed, size, strength, flexibility and what scouts call “length.” Combining all this with technique is the stuff of defensive coordinator fantasy.

Augmenting the impression that his best is yet to come is his appearance: He still has baby fat and lacks any semblance of facial hair. He resembles the high school freshman that the football coach salivates over because he’s as big as he is and hasn’t even hit puberty. Even though he weighs 280 pounds, there’s a youthful bounciness to the way he moves, which was famously displayed on a YouTube clip in which he did 14 consecutive backflips before a college game. The whole package suggests a puppy with huge feet and an overabundance of energy.

This restlessness manifests itself in his speech, which is rapid-fire and staccato and seemingly without punctuation. Also without punctuation are his musings on Twitter, which mostly take the form of banal, guileless observations. If the mark of a good writer is for the reader to hear the writer’s unique “voice,” then consider DatBoyJPP a skilled tweeter.

If it was up to me I would keep the weather in the mid 60’s lil bit of breeze everyday that would be so nice who with me.

My blackberry need to refresh faster come on now

I know I don’t tweet as much but I just be busy but I want yall to know that I do read all yall tweets when u tweet me I appreciate da Love.

Evidently, saving the Giants’ season is hard work. Because after last night, DatBoyJPP had this to say to the world:

I so hungry right now and sleepy I need food.

THE STORY OF PIERRE-PAUL’S RELUCTANCE TO PURSUE a career in football is well-documented by now, with Collinsworth having touched on it last night. Like many football players, Pierre-Paul considered himself a basketball player as a kid. But Greg Minnis, the former coach in Deerfield Beach High School in Broward County, saw a “prototype defensive end” whenever he walked by the outdoor basketball courts, where Pierre-Paul was a fixture.

“We had a pretty good team, and we felt he was a missing element at defensive end,” remembered Minnis.

So Minnis hounded Pierre-Paul, for years. It wasn’t until his junior year that Pierre-Paul finally agreed to play.

“I think I bugged him enough where he was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna shut coach up and go play,’” Minnis said.

Minnis whisked Pierre-Paul to the locker room, slapped a pair of pads on him and stuck him at defensive end.

“And we just kinda pinned his ears back and let him go," Minnis said. "Find ball, attack ball."

Even someone as new to the game as Pierre-Paul could handle that assignment. He dominated from the moment he hit the field, helping lead his team to the state championship finals. Even in the football hotbed of Florida, when kids start playing Pee Wee at five-years-old, Pierre-Paul stood out. But his grades weren’t good enough to qualify for a Division I school.

So it was off to College of the Canyons, a junior college in Los Angeles, which found Pierre-Paul because the team’s offensive coordinator was a friend of a coach at Deerfield Beach. Even at the next competition level, the strategy of “See ball, chase ball” was plenty effective.

Coach Garett Tujague remembered, “He’d come to me on the sideline and say, ‘Coach, when do you want the ball back?’ I’d say, ‘Anytime is fine.’ Two plays later, he’d come and hand me the ball.”

One of the reasons Pierre-Paul went to College of the Canyons was that its prime location brought exposure from major programs.

“Eighty Division I schools come through my office,” Tujague said.

But having cemented his status as a prospect with those Division I schools, Pierre-Paul next had to worry about being eligible for them by graduating from junior college. And while Tujague said he would have been eligible to play his sophomore year at College of the Canyons, whether he would have graduated is another question.

“It’s 100-times easier to get a degree from [junior colleges] outside of California,” Tujague said. He added, “Jason didn’t like going to school.”

So Pierre-Paul transferred to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, which had the additional advantage of offering full athletic scholarships. Pierre-Paul had to pay his own way at College of the Canyons, which was no easy task for his family. His parents, Jean and Marie, immigrated from Haiti before Jason was born. Jean went blind when Jason was an infant, which forced Marie to work multiple cleaning jobs to support the family.

At Fort Scott, Pierre-Paul dominated just as he had from the moment Minnis foisted pads on him. He graduated and played a full season at South Florida, and was impressive enough for the Giants to spend their first-round draft pick on him.

The pick was not without controversy, however. The N.F.L. landscape is littered with the corpses of careers of players who had all the physical tools and none of the techniques. Being a raw talent is fine in high school and college, but in the NFL, raw talent only gets you so far.

But apparently rawness was never a problem for Pierre-Paul, as DatBoy underscored with a wee-hours tweet last night:

Thanks everybody for the love I appreciate it. Now who down with JPP otherwise u sleeping on me.