Trenton is the capital of New Jersey. The population number is just north of 90,000 people. That ranks as the fifth-largest city in New Jersey. Still, Trenton is a small city. The people in the town have similar experiences with schools and social circles.
May 8 was the inaugural “Ji’Ayir Brown Day” in Trenton. The list of players who have made the NFL isn’t long. The chances of making the NFL from any part of the country are small, imagine from Trenton, New Jersey.
Brown visited his old high school, Trenton Central High School, on Monday. A place that was in flux during his time there. The school had four different locations before finding its home at 400 Chambers Street in Trenton.
Like many other people and youth, in particular, Brown dealt with his fair share of adversity and hardships. In Brown’s case, he lost his older brother. That loss has helped shaped who Ji’Ayir as a person today.
Former educators, coaches, and principals walked to the podium and spoke to Brown’s work ethic, temperament, and resolve. The message was consistent. Ji’Ayir Brown is a high-character individual.
It felt like the entire city of Trenton was in attendance to celebrate Brown’s selection by the 49ers. When it was Brown’s turn to speak, he reiterated how important it was to him to be a role model for the children living under the same circumstances he did.
Brown focused on overcoming bad influences as it helps you steer clear of bad decisions. With each sentence, he mentioned focusing on whatever your goal is. Littered throughout each sentence was his onus on his faith and god. Brown strongly believes in walking “the path.”
Once the ceremony concluded, Sharron Grady, the organizer of the event, implored everyone in attendance in the stands to come down and meet Brown for pictures and autographs.
Brown stayed and spoke with every single person and child afterward until security motioned for everyone to leave the field. Brown knew every single person, it felt like. Kids and adults were greeted with warm smiles, and Brown gave his time graciously.
I was able to grab some time with the new 49er, finally. His graciousness carried over into our conversation.
Jy’Aiyr, what does this feel like? The whole city feels like they are out giving you support. I mean you’ve stayed out here and signed autographs until they are kicking us out, this looks like it means a lot to you.
It does because I know I know exactly where these kids come from. I walked the same paths and went to the same schools. Just going through that, I know how difficult it is to try to be more than what your environment is allowing you to be. I was fortunate enough to be that person to show the city, the kids, and the youth that there’s more to it. It’s more than just the bad neighborhoods around the city and the violence around us that we constantly encounter every day. I just wanted to show them you can be what you put your mind to, you can dream big and make it out of the city.
You said in your speech: “Look at me, as the example, keep your mind on it.” You’ve dealt with some hardships as well, how does that keep you focused as you continue on this journey?
Faith. My belief in myself and god and knowing he designated a specific path. He meant for all this for, me to be the guy to present all this and me to be the guy to impact the youth. Keeping that faith, keeping that mindset allowed me to persevere through anything I went through.
Switching to football, you started at Lackawanna College for two years. Tell me about the transition to high school from there then to Penn State.
So high school to Lackawanna was a big transition, I come from a small city as you see. Football wasn’t really a big thing around here. Didn’t have any offers out of high school, was a really good player, but didn’t have any offers. Like I said, I never lost faith. Went to Lackawanna, which it opened me up to a whole different world of football and the people I met there. Coach Reese and Coach Duda told me if I come there, and I believe I can play, it’s like a football factory, you’ll get found. I went there with that same belief that I was one of the best players around the state and even the country, I said that when I was back there, I was one of the best players in the country. So, I just wanted to finally get somewhere where I could prove that, and Lackawanna was a stepping stone for me to get to Penn State.
What was it like after your first year at Penn State, you were with Jaquan Brisker, who is in the league now and now you’re in the league as well, do you guys keep in contact still?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s my brother. We’re closer than just friends. Our relationship was built off work ethic. Like I said, I went to Lackawanna thinking I was the best guy in the country. I was willing to put the work in like that, too. As I was working I was running sprints and racing and so was he. You look to your left and the guy who wants it as bad as you, I’m a guy who is going to befriend that guy, every day. That was my guy on how he approached the game and how bad he wanted the success, not just for him but for his family. I can live with that because I was thinking the same way. That’s how we created our bond.
Let me switch over to the 49ers. How many times did you meet with the 49ers, formally or informally, and who was in those meetings? John Lynch? Kyle Shanahan? Steve Wilks?
I met with Lynch in my top 30 visit. I had two visits with the 49ers, a formal meeting, and a top-30 visit. Didn’t meet with Shanahan or Lynch during the informal interview. Met with all of them during the top 30 meeting. It was like a place where I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. You can ask the coaching staff, I told all of them that it feels like I was supposed to be here. We weren’t thinking I would slip to the third round and god made that happen, it was a place where I definitely felt like I should have been, and I was there.
You definitely should have been there, I mean they moved up and traded up for you. I mean when you see the trade-up, you automatically know they definitely wanted you there. I mean your skillset is suited to playing fast, playing downhill, you’re a ball hawk, and that fits very well with Talanoa Hufanga. Was that kind of what they were telling you about how they were setting you up and what they wanted you to do?
Yeah, the ball hawk. You can’t teach a ball hawk. They saw a lot of that in my game, my instincts for the game, my IQ for the game and it fits everything that they do. They have very intelligent coaches, very intelligent GM, and owners. People with IQ sort of gravitate to each other, that’s how me and the 49ers got into it.
Now I know you haven’t been in the building, schematically, will there be a little bit of a learning curve? Is there something Penn State was running that you could say: I can automatically see myself in this system?
Like I said, I’m a very high IQ guy. I’m able to adjust and adapt. Probably just terminology would be the new learning curve. But football is football wherever you go.
The last thing, tell the 49ers fans what they are getting. 49ers fans are very excited, they are an opinionated bunch, they have a lot of thoughts, they are very informed, I will say that. But everyone seems to be very high on you because of your skillset. Tell the fans what they are getting.
You can’t teach the skillset I have. I’m a natural ball hawk. I’ve been getting turnovers since I’ve been playing football. What Niners Nation is getting is a ball hawk, a guy who is going to take the ball away and make something happen when he does take the ball away. And also a leader, I’m a leader on the field and off the field. I’m just dedicated to the goal, which is winning. Which is getting a Super Bowl. I’m dedicated to that, I haven’t won anything in my life. I’ve been to a championship, I lost a championship. I’m going to get it. You’re getting a dedicated player that’s going to work extremely hard with the team and the coaching staff to try to bring a Super Bowl into the 49ers facility.
May 8th is Ji’Ayir Brown Day in Trenton. Today and every year from now on. He received the key to the school and athletic department because of his character and the example he sets for the youth.
Brown is confident he is meant to be here. It’s hard to argue against him.