Where did you grow up?
I was born on April 25, 1989 in Riverside Ca. to Tana Hemmings and Quincy Cleveland. I have 2 sisters and 1 brother. I spent majority of my childhood living in San Bernardino Ca. I went to North Park Elementary, Jehue Middle School and Rialto High School. Fun fact: I missed 0 days of school from kindergarten up to the 6th grade and was awarded a Perfect Attendance Achievement plaque from the Principal and Vice Principal of North Park Elementary. My mom was the main reason for this achievement. She understood how important academics were and made sure I was receiving the most knowledge and education as possible.
What age did you start playing football and what drove you to play sports at that age?
I began playing football at the age of 6. Football was a huge sport in my family. My grandfather was a coach for a Pop Warner team and I had uncles who played football. It was a lot of fun growing up and watching my older relatives play, but that did nothing but grow my eagerness to step onto the field myself. Finally, when I was of age, my mom signed me up to play Pop Warner football for the city of Rialto. I played my first 2 years then took a year off to explore what the Boy Scouts had to offer. After a year with the Boy Scouts, I was sure that football was a sport I wanted to grow and get better at.
Who were some of the sports figures you looked up to growing up and why?
I played running back growing up, so I looked up to guys like Dorsey Levens and Barry Sanders. I liked how shifty and allusive they were on the football field. They were both guys who didn’t like to get hit. At my Pop Warner practices, I would try to make a cut or juke that resembled what I saw on TV that past Sunday, but never seemed to get it right because I was always getting tackled or hit(Chuckles). Even though I didn’t play basketball, Michael Jordan was also a sports figure I looked up to. The way he played the game of basketball was amazing to watch as a young kid. He was doing things on the court I would dream about. Then Space Jam came out and he brought his talents to the cartoon would, which was cool.
What sports and positions did you play in high school?
In high school, I played all over the place. We were a small team, so we had a bunch of players playing all over the place. The good part was that my teammates were open to paying other positions. There was never a time where someone had to step in to play a position and they gave a fit about it. We were all on the same page and had the team’s goals in mind in those types of situations. QB, RB, WR, DE, OLB and S were a few of the positions I played.
The student comes before the athlete and NFL Leagues United makes sure all participants understand that. Dey Juan Hemmings – Mira Mesa Site Director
Did you have the opportunity to play sports in college?
Yes, I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship to San Diego State University. I came into state playing Corner, but ended up moving to Safety after my sophomore year. Coach said, I gained a few pounds.
Tell us about that experience.
College was a great experience. It was nice getting to know students from different parts of the country and exploring their different outlooks and views on life. I majored in Social Science with an emphasis in Sociology. I guess my passion for learning about different backgrounds and heritages carried on in the classroom.
How has that helped you at this stage in your life?
I believe that understanding someone’s background and how they were raised, plays a huge role in the person they’ve become today. I actually encourage people to be open to other’s viewpoints; maybe they can expose you to something you never expected. In growth, you also have to be open to constructive criticism. When you go through life thinking that you have all the answers, you’re going to run into numerous roadblocks. And those roadblocks have the potential to create more roadblocks if you’re not open to reconstructing your thought to better fit different situations.
What advice do you have for kids who have the same dreams and goals as you did at that age?
Dream big!! Work hard!! Enjoy your work!! You have to set high goals for yourself. Just like training for a sport; you don’t half way lift the weights. You go until you can’t go anymore, right? That’s how you have to set goals. Once those goals are set, you work hard and tirelessly towards those goals. And finally, you have to enjoy the hard work you’re putting in. Your WANT to get better will fuel you to get better.
What do you say to the parents who think football is to dangerous and might be on the fence about letting their child play?
I won’t argue that football isn’t a dangerous sport, but it’s only dangerous when the right techniques aren’t taught. I see too many kids being taught improper techniques and it’s like pulling teeth to me. There is always a right and wrong way to do things. That’s why I love what we do here with NFL Leagues United. We are all players who have been playing football for a majority of our lives and we are in a position to teach our youth off of first hand experiences.
What would you say to the young athlete that might think flag football is not a “cool” as tackle. And if they already play tackle… why should they play flag?
First, you don’t play a sport because it’s cool. You play to create life-long friends and memories while building communication and leadership skills. Flag football gives students the opportunity to train and practice like the pros and college level athletes. Focusing on good technique and fundamentals is what is key at those two levels and flag football will do nothing but sharpen those skills. For the students who play tackle football, flag football is a great opportunity to get work in the off-season. College and pro athletes practice their craft year-round, but are not in pads year-round. Think about it.
What do you hope to accomplish with working with NFLLU?
Spreading the good work our college players and NFL ambassadors have set for us. Teaching good technique and proper fundamentals to all youth. Also, I would like to help to bridge the gap between recreational sports and our local high schools. There is a definite gap between the two and I feel it does nothing but hurt our youth. Bringing consistency back to sports. Having something year-round where our parents and community members feel comfortable sending their kids to.
Why should a parent choose NFLLU over any of the other programs offered across the county?
NFL Leagues United is the only Flag Football program founded and run by former college and NFL players. We are community based and believe in long term development vs short term success. Working in education, I see a lot of students forgetting the fact that they are Student-Athletes. The student comes before the athlete and NFL Leagues United makes sure all participants understand that. Weekly grade reports and an educational twist on extra points are just a couple of ways we implement this philosophy. Also, the coaching each participant will receive will be from qualified coaches who understand the vision and culture of NFL Leagues United. In a lot of the other Flag leagues, coaches are volunteers who just want to have eyes on their child throughout the season, but essentially aren’t there to get every single participant better.
Who do you have in the next Super Bowl?
The Green Bay Packers!! I feel Aaron Rodgers and company is ready to take another Championship. We acquired a few rookies and veterans this off-season and I feel they will step up and step ASAP.