SALEMBURG — Jerris McPhail played several years with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions as a running back. For the Sampson County native, his dreams came true as he pounded the football against defenses.
But getting to the NFL took a lot of dedication. McPhail shared his journey with fourth and fifth students at Salemburg Elementary School (SES) — a school he attended as a child.
“The sky is the limit and you can make it,” he said.
Several years were spent at SES, before he moved to Clinton and played football for the Dark Horses. After graduating from Clinton High School he went to Wake Forest University on a football scholarship. He later played at East Carolina University before getting drafted in the NFL.
“A lot of people think that I just came from Salemburg Elementary, straight to the pros,” McPhail said.
But it wasn’t that easy and took a lot to get there. Some of the obstacles he faced involved coming from an abusive home, depression and being bullied at school.
“But guess what? I didn’t let it break me,” he said. “It almost broke a couple of times. But it didn’t break me.”
While speaking to the students, he talked about the importance of making good grades and listening to teachers. As a youth, McPhail told himself that the NFL was in his future, although many doubted him.
“With God first, and hard work, you can’t lose,” he said while referring to his personal motto.
There was a time when his future looked gloomy after quit Wake Forrest. McPhail was homesick and was thinking about working at the Smithfield plant in Clinton. He was encouraged to return and finish college, before enrolling at the University of Mount Olive, where he played for the basketball. But it wasn’t long before he returned to the gridiron at East Carolina University as a walk-on. He was later drafted and played for several years before an injury ended his career. But McPhail continued his success when he returned to Sampson County.
“If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher or whatever you want to be, you can do it,” he said. “When I was your age, I wanted to be a professional athlete and a business owner. And guess what? I was a professional athlete and I’m a business owner.”
He currently owns Gridiron, a local gym and fitness center open 24/7. As he spoke to the students, he also emphasized the importance of making good decisions. He shared how NFL scouts visited SES to see what kind of child McPhail was a youth.
“Whatever you’re doing now is going to follow you in your life,” he said.
McPhail was invited to speak to the children by Megan Mouldon, a fourth-grade SES teacher. Like McPhail, she wants them to know that anything is possible.
“The sky is the limit with them and they can achieve whatever they want to,” Mouldon said. “The only one restricting them is themselves. I want that fire in them and that drive in them.”
She also expressed how the students shared something in common with McPhail with his Salemburg background.
“I want them to see that he came from Sampson County and Clinton,” Mouldon said. “He made great of himself and is still continuing to do so.”