Almost every possible roadblock has gotten in the way of Jake Lampman while he has pursued his dream of playing in the NFL.
The East Lansing native has overcome at least one challenge at each level of the game, whether it was sitting on the bench in high school at Haslett, getting overlooked on the recruiting trail or going undrafted after playing at Ferris State.
But none of it has stopped the 23-year-old, and it shows on the field.
As a gunner on punt team, he screams down the field and makes sure-handed tackles in the open field each week.
He has become a secret weapon for the New Orleans Saints.
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Now fans from his home state will get to see the rookie who wears No. 19 in action — living out his dream — when the Saints host the Detroit Lions on Sunday (1 p.m., Fox).
“I knew from a young age that football was all I wanted to do with my life,” Lampman told the Free Press last week. “I really wanted football to be my platform to influence other people, no matter how it was — as a coach, a player.
“I always knew in my mind I wanted to do it. I’ve always been around the right people to get me going in the right direction and get me the resources.”
And his attitude has been to never give up.
Only 36 touches
Lampman was a student of the game in high school and had a football IQ not many players his age could fathom. Plus he had speed and skill.
As he got closer to graduation, he became better as a player, and his dream of playing the sport at the highest level looked less farfetched each season.
He entered his senior year at Haslett in 2010 with hopes of lighting up the Capital Area Activities Conference Gold Division as a running back.
A few good highlights on film and some promising rushing stats could yield a handful of scholarship offers to play for smaller Football Bowl Subdivision schools, or maybe he could make it at the Division II level, he thought at the time.
Senior year was going to be a good one for Lampman.
And then it wasn’t.
The Vikings (4-5) missed the playoffs for the second straight season and for some reason, which Lampman still hasn’t figured out, he never saw the field.
In fact, that season the shifty running back had only 36 touches — in nine games.
“That’s not a question I’ve been able to answer and have never tried to answer it,” Lampman said. “I got to where I’m at because of what I accomplished in college.
“I got to college on my own.”
Lampman’s lackluster prep career didn’t discourage him from chasing his dreams.
It just made him work even harder to get to the next level.
Passing up West Point
Lampman didn’t blame the Haslett coaching staff for his lack of playing time but having only 36 touches made it hard for colleges to recruit him.
After his senior season, he spent four weeks after school splicing together somewhat of a highlight tape that he would later send out to schools.
He made up for his lack of film by participating in senior day camps and on-campus combines. He even went to combines sponsored by big recruiting outlets.
Those camps are where he verified his skill set. He ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time. He graded in the 90th percentile with his Sparq score at a Nike camp. He put up numbers that made him one of the best recruits in the Midwest.
Colleges just couldn’t overlook his lack of film against big-time competition, plus he was only 6-feet tall and was well underweight to withstand the beating a running back endures at the next level.
There were some small schools that showed interest in him, though, and about 15 teams contacted him after seeing his combine results.
“A lot of the schools that saw my combine results and asked for my tape were DII and DIII schools, and maybe one or two Division I schools,” Lampman said. “The only real Division I school that truly wanted me was West Point.”
Lampman made an official visit to see Army take on rival Navy.
The Black Knights were serious about adding him to their team. Even though it looked like they might be his only option to play in college, he talked it over with his family before accepting Army’s offer.
“There comes a point when you think about everything you want out of life, in terms of where you want it to go and where you are being led,” he said. “Being in the Army, there’s a lot of guys who would consider serving in the Army at the drop of a hat, and I’m not saying that I’m not one of those guys. I have so much respect for what those guys do. If I could live a second life, I would have definitely tried it.”
Lampman instead declined the offer because, well, it would have taken him off his path of making it to the NFL because of the required service time Army players are required to fulfill after they graduate.
“My life-long dream of playing in the NFL played a factor for me,” he said. “I thought if I went to Army, it wouldn’t help me get to the NFL, and that was big.”
Lampman’s playing options looked bleak after his trip to West Point, but on a whim, he visited Ferris State with a friend and went through a workout there.
Not even 10 minutes after they returned to their car to travel back to East Lansing, the Ferris coaching staff called Lampman and offered him a spot on its team.
Lampman played in all 11 games his freshman season at Ferris in 2011, catching six passes for 114 yards, including a 70-yard TD against Northern Michigan.
But the Bulldogs finished 6-5 and fired coach Jeff Pierce after the season.
“During the process of the coaching change, I was going to transfer to Michigan State and try to walk on,” Lampman said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Should I stay or go? Am I going to leave for Michigan State?’
“When Tony Annese came in as the new coach at Ferris, I immediately researched him as a coach and what kind of player’s coach he was.”
Annese joined the Bulldogs after leading the now-defunct Grand Rapids Community College football team to a 30-4 record in three seasons.
His innovative veer teams averaged 500 yards and 50 points per game and won two national championships, including one in the Raiders’ final season in 2011, when they went 11-0 and won the Midwest Football Conference Championship.
Annese even had a successful coaching career at the prep level, putting together a 195-41 record at Montrose, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Jenison and Muskegon. His teams made 15 playoff appearances and won three state championships.
Lampman decided to stick with Ferris and give Annese a chance.
“I thought something special was going to happen, and I put a lot of prayer into it,” he said. “I was led the right way. Me going to MSU wasn’t a huge decision for me, but it was definitely one of those things where I always wanted to play for State.
“It was one of those things after my first year at Ferris where I thought I could have a shot at MSU. But I felt like something special was going to happen at Ferris, and I threw away the MSU dream and said, ‘Let’s make something special happen here at Ferris.’ “
Making Ferris special
Annese and the Bulldogs quickly got to work.
They went 7-4 and 8-3 in his first two years. They beat rival Grand Valley State for the first time since 1999 and snapped a 10-game losing streak to Michigan Tech.
The next season, the Bulldogs went 11-0 for the first time in team history and won its first playoff game in 19 years. From 2014 to 2015, they put together a 25-game winning streak, while Lampman and his teammates set record marks in both the NCAA and Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Quarterback Jason Vander Laan, for example, became the record holder for both the most career rushing yards and touchdowns by a QB in NCAA history at any level as well as a two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner.
As a receiver, Lampman finished with 52 receptions for 731 yards and eight TDs as a senior in 2015, helping the Bulldogs become the No. 1 ranked team in DII throughout the regular season.
Finally getting a chance to touch the ball was eye-opening for Lampman, but he said it just proved he knew he was capable of competing in college.
“When I was given the ball, I definitely capitalized on it, but I didn’t get the opportunities a lot of these guys that go Division I get (before college),” he said. “My senior year of high school I had 36 touches my whole final season.
“My college teammates were like, ‘I got 36 touches a game!’ I knew I had the speed, skill set and toughness to make it at the college level.”
Lampman credited his receivers coach at Ferris, Sparky McEwen, as well as Annese with giving him a chance to make it to the NFL.
“I never doubted my ability as an athlete to get to where I am, but I knew it was going to be a lot harder than the average player, and I knew what the coaches were going to be looking for from me,” he said. “Coach Annese and Sparky McEwen, they told me, ‘If you do what I tell you to do, I’ll get you in front of the right people, and your toughness and athleticism will get you the rest of the way.’ “
Surviving spring camp
It wasn’t a surprise Lampman went undrafted during the 2016 NFL draft, but it also wasn’t a surprise the Saints invited him to a rookie minicamp in the spring.
There were 79 players in the camp, and he was one of 44 who were trying out for a roster spot for fall camp. He was one of only two players signed after that camp.
Saints coach Sean Payton told Lampman of the news in his office.
“We sat down for two or three minutes in his office, and he told me how he liked how I worked and ran and my ability as a blocker,” Lampman said. “He liked me, and I could feel that something special was happening with my workout.
“I felt like I put in a great workout down there, and I gave it everything I had. I think they saw that, and they respected it. So he was like, ‘I want to keep you around for OTAs,’ so I got to know the team and build relationships with them off the bat.
“I came back for camp and knew it’d be a longshot to make the team, so I didn’t focus on the signing process. I focused on the game and the process of becoming a better player on film. I got rewarded with a practice squad spot.”
Getting the promotion
Lampman went to work daily on the practice squad.
“My No. 1 goal was to put the best film out that I could every day,” he said. “I knew the special-teams route was how I was going to get my foot in the door with NFL teams, and I got my shot.
“I put my best self on the field every day.”
Because of injuries, the Saints promoted Lampman to their active roster just before their home game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 16.
“I got the call-up and was prepared because I went against our starters every day in practice,” he said. “That helped a lot. I was definitely excited.”
The first call he made was to his parents, who had never missed one of his high school or college games. They missed his debut against the Panthers, however, because he was promoted on such short notice.
But he gave them plenty to watch on TV from home.
He recorded three special teams tackles. Payton gave him a game ball afterward.
“When you go back and look at the film, it was outstanding,” Payton told NOLA.com after the game. “His first game up, he was fantastic — kickoff coverage, punt coverage, disruptive.”
Lampman has appeared in four games since, and he doesn’t expect the Saints’ game against the Lions on Sunday to be his last either.
But if it happens to be his final game — because of injury, bad luck or whatever might come his way — he’s going to make the most out of every down he plays.
“I play every snap as if it were my last,” Lampman said. “I’ve had that motto since I tore my labrum at Ferris my senior year and was rewarded a medical redshirt to come back and have a fifth year.
“I have a 10-minute highlight tape on YouTube of just me blocking that shows that I do just that on every snap. I give it everything I have. That’s what I do here. On special teams, a lot of success is based on the effort you put in, and everyone who knows me knows I give 100% effort on every play.
“I’m going to leave the NFL with no regrets because I have no one reason to end my career or give someone a reason to keep me from living out my dream.”