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NFL Legend Jayson DiManche: "Youth Football Allowed Me to Find Myself"

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Jayson DiManche's first football memories were playing against the older kids in the Trenton, NJ area. 

“I was a bit heavyset as a kid, so I always played with the older group of kids," DiManche said. “That forced me to grow up a little faster. These guys, one of them had a beard almost. Those guys used to run me over.

"That helped me develop quicker because I wouldn’t allow that to continue to happen to me. If they’re going to put me with the older, stronger, faster guys, then I have to compete with them. I was like, ‘OK, I have to get faster, I have to get stronger, I have to lose some of this baby fat,’ because I wanted to compete with these guys."

From the time he started playing at eight years old, DiManche took the punishment from the older kids. The son of Haitian immigrants, DiManche said the adversity on the field allowed him to blossom as a player.

“When I was tired, when I was in pain, when I was hurting, football taught me to put all of that aside and think about the man next to me," DiManche said. "And that’s what I used, that same motivation that I learned in Pop Warner, to motivate myself through college to get to the NFL."

DiManche earned all-county, all-region, and all-state honors as a linebacker for Hamilton West High School. He attended Southern Illinois University, where he was a team captain and all-conference player for the Salukis. 

After going undrafted in 2013, DiManche signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. He spent two years in Cincinnati, primarily as a special teamer, and appeared in 28 games. 

DiManche also had stints on the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and San Francisco 49ers from 2015-2017, before an injury ended his career.

He now lives in Dallas, where he is involved in real estate and also doing what he did when he played — talking to the local youth about what it takes to be successful.

DiManche said he shares the lessons he first learned on his Pop Warner teams. 

“Youth football allowed me to find myself," he said. "It helped me develop as a man and to care for my neighbor and respect my neighbor no matter where they were from, if they had a different accent than me or were a different color than me. It taught me to be selfless. It taught me how to work as a unit, work as a family, and to achieve a goal that was bigger than any individual.

"I was able to find my true character early on from playing youth football. That’s what football does. It uses team and team dynamics to reveal your individual character and your team’s character."

Photo: AP/Joe Robbins


  • NFL Players and Legends
  • Youth Football