As a kid, Jeremiah Dadeboe dreamed of playing professional football in front of a packed NFL stadium.
Today, he’s living his professional dream, but in a way he never imagined.
Dadeboe, a 6’, 210 lb. safety/linebacker who played college football at UB, is one of 88 players — joining big-name stars like former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and former Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois — partaking in Fan Controlled Football (FCF), a first-of-its-kind 7-on-7 indoor league launched in 2021 that allows fans to call offensive plays and draft new teams each week.
In a phone interview with The Spectrum, Dadeboe explained that playing in the league, which was founded in 2017 by former NFL defensive back Ray Austin, is a unique challenge, one he has gladly embraced.
“Just going against the offense and having the fans pick the plays is cool. It's cool because it doesn’t matter, you have to be on your toes,” Dadeboe said. “It’s just how you would play your job differently to a different call, it makes no difference who’s calling it. If Stevie Wonder was over there calling the plays it wouldn’t make a difference.”
FCF is a new football experience. For starters, fans get to choose which team a player will compete for each week, something that has never been done before at the professional level.
Dadeboe says this process has forced him to be flexible, but that it isn’t too challenging when players are mentally prepared.
“Where I’m at mentally it doesn’t matter who I’m playing with. I come to play and try to practice my technique and get better as an individual,” Dadeboe said. “It’s a team game but the fans are gonna do what the fans do. I can’t control the fans so I got to control what I can control. That’s my effort, my attention to detail and my focus. I can’t be stressing about the fans too much, football is a fun game until you make it complicated.”
In FCF, the field is narrower and the rules cater more to the offense than the average football league. As a result, teams often put up a lot of points and play a fast-paced, offensive-oriented brand of football.
Dadeboe, a multi-position defender who has played traditional 11-on-11 football his entire life, says he has enjoyed the FCF because it offers a new challenge but doesn’t change the rules of the game completely.
“It’s fun, it’s a faster game. Things are moving a lot faster, things are happening a lot quicker,” Dadeboe said. “But it’s cool as long as you understand your assignment and know how to do your job. It’s quick football.”
Dadeboe says he never expected to play in a league like the FCF, but that he found it at the perfect time. Outside of the NFL, it is one of the few operational leagues during COVID-19.
“It’s different because it’s more of a passing league,” Dadeboe said. “But you know, especially with the pandemic going on, football is at a premium right now. Any football is good football.”
FCF consists of four teams that are owned by athletes and pop culture icons. Owners and co-owners include rapper Quavo, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler and former Pro-Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch visited the locker room before the first set of FCF games, something that motivated Dadeboe and his teammates to perform well and look at their futures.
“We love to see him because we’re trying to get where he’s at,” Dadeoboe said. “Practicing Black excellence, it’s inspiring. It’s great having these icons and these figures, taking it to more than just football. Taking it to ownership, that’s amazing.”
Dadeboe spent four seasons at UB, where he appeared in 47 games. The York, PA native says he had a positive experience in the Queen City and credits the coaching staff for emphasizing the importance of focusing on the details, something young players often overlook.
“The strength coaches got us ready in terms of the attention to detail side of it. Even Coach Leipold did a great job of having things detail-oriented. Football is very fun, but there’s a time and place to understand the details and the little things. The little things that make up the big thing,” Dadeboe said. “UB instilled that foundation of understanding details and being able to prioritize and figure out what really matters.”
Dadeboe played at UB until 2018, when he took his talents to the University of Maine as a graduate transfer. After playing one season there, he began preparing for a career in the NFL.
But his plans of participating in Maine’s pro day were shattered once the pandemic hit.
Instead of trying to impress NFL teams on the field in the April Combine, Dadeboe found himself doing whatever he could to make ends meet.
“I had to pick up a part-time job at the grocery store,” Dadeboe said. “I was stocking shelves, pushing carts, all that fun stuff.”
During the summer, sports started to return to society. That’s when Dadeboe attended an American National Combine event, which presented a tremendous opportunity for him to perform in front of NFL personnel.
According to Dadeboe, he “blew it out of the water,” and he even got to speak with a member of the Carolina Panthers player personnel staff.
But just as Dadeboe thought he broke through, he realized it was for nought.
“I was thinking I was gonna get in, but it wasn’t God's time. It wasn’t the time so the call never came,” Dadeboe said.
Following the disappointing news, Dadeboe returned home to coach his local high school football team.
This wasn’t how Dadeboe planned for his football journey to go, but he was determined to make the most of his opportunities.
“I ended up starting a business and was training, I was training every day,” Dadeboe said. “Lifting, fieldwork, all that on repeat, tons of training and work. So I was juggling a couple of hustles.”
Then, essentially out of nowhere, Dadoboe received an email saying there was a combine taking place in Pittsburgh, three hours from his hometown of York.
This was his golden opportunity, and he wasn’t going to let it slip from his fingertips.
Dadeboe had a positive combine performance, recording a 11’3” broad jump, a 4.55 second 40-yard dash and a 4.19 second 20-yard shuttle time.
He also flashed his versatility, participating in every defensive position drill outside of the defensive line.
“I was playing everything. I was playing linebacker, corner, safety, just leaving it all out there,” Dadeboe said. “I ended up getting a call from the head coach, saying he wanted to offer me a contract to this league, I didn’t really know what it was but all I could pray for was opportunity. So soon as it came I was right on it.”
The contract proved to be a pivotal moment in Dadeboe’s life, as he not only signed a contract to play professional football, but he also saw the opportunity as a way to grow his “Jumping Gems” business.
Launched during the height of the pandemic, his glove company has provided the league with sports performance gear and has grown in size.
Dadeboe cites Austin’s work for his success.
“He is pressing for us to start our businesses and our brands and get ourselves prepared for life after football,” Dadeboe said. “He wants us to use this platform and this stage that we've been presented to get ourselves put on.”
FCF has given Dadeboe a chance to play professional football and become the owner of a young, growing brand.
“It’s just such a great opportunity. This league is for football players. The game of football takes from you. That’s all it can do, ever in life just take from you. But this league is trying to give,” Dadeboe said. “It’s taking from you in terms of practicing football, but it’s giving the opportunity to elevate yourself and create a platform.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.