Former Carver standout Jarmon Fortson gets another chance at football with the Columbus Lions

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 9, 2013 

Jarmon Fortson seemed destined for the National Football League even when he was at Carver High.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver helped the Tigers win a state championship in 2007. It seemed he was coveted by every major college in the country and eventually signed with Florida State.

He had highlight-reel catches during his short stay with the Seminoles. In 2009, he led FSU with 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns.

But before the 2010 season could get under way, Fortson was dismissed from the team.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher stated the dismissal was due to "a violation of team rules," but reported that Fortson had failed multiple drug tests. Fortson accepts the blame for what happened during his time in Tallahassee.

"Of course, I regret decisions I made," Fortson said. "I was young and in college. I was actually having a decent career and made some bad decisions. You learn from your mistakes and I learned a lot from (Florida State). I got dismissed from the team. I would've liked to have stayed, but things happen sometimes."

After Florida State, Fortson went to North Alabama, a Division II program, which is a popular destination for former Division I players who transfer to a lower level so that they can be immediately eligible.

During the 2010 season, Fortson was second on the team with 32 catches and led UNA in receiving yards (553), touchdown catches (five) and yards per catch (17.3).

Even though Fortson seemed to have adapted to his new surroundings well, not everything was ideal. Fortson was suspended for the postseason by coach Terry Bowden for missing classes.

"North Alabama was different," Fortson said. "Coming from a D-I school like Florida State to a school and a place like North Alabama was different. It had a whole different scenery and it was hard to adjust.

"As the season came along, things came up about me not going to class and (Bowden) told me some things which turned out to be different than what he said. I'm not trying to make some excuses, but that's what happened. I didn't go to class and had some problems with the coach, so I decided to enter the (NFL) draft. I could've stayed, but I decided to enter the draft because of the situation there at UNA."

The call from the NFL never came.

After being passed over, Fortson drifted away from football, but worked out and tried to stay in shape. He signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in early 2012, but only lasted a couple of weeks before returning home.

"From the time I left North Alabama, there's been a lot going on in my life," Fortson said. "I've been trying to better myself. I have a 3-year-old son now and before the tryout, I was trying to make things better, working out and living life. I heard about the Lions and how they get players to next level and felt like it was a chance."

Back to football

Fortson signed with the Columbus Lions last fall, so he is getting that rare fourth chance, and it's one he's enjoying to the fullest.

"I'm just trying to get back to football," Fortson said. "I feel like it's the right time to get back to football. It's kind of a second chance for me.

"It's my fault with what happened. I could've gone the rest of my life without playing football, but this is a chance to play in my hometown. It's a second chance to play pro football, but just having people I know and my family around is what matters more. It's a chance for me to get back to the fun part of football."

Lions coach Jason Gibson said he knew about Fortson's past when he started talking to him about trying out for the Lions and that the two had an open, honest discussion about Fortson's mistakes.

"When I originally talked to him, I brought it to the forefront," Gibson said. "I'm not someone who beats around the bush, so I talked to him about things. His answers to my questions satisfied me and that's where I've left it. From what I've seen so far, he's doing the right things and I don't know any different."

Gibson -- who is in his seventh season with the franchise -- originally looked at Fortson as a wide receiver, but Fortson persuaded him to give him a chance as a defender as well.

"I always liked playing offense at receiver, but when I first was in high school, I played defense," said Fortson. "I told (Gibson) I could play defense and he gave me a chance just to see how I could do. I asked (Gibson) if I could play 'jack' (linebacker) and he put me there and I've been doing a really good job. It's a lot to learn since it's my first time there in a long time, but things have been going great. I'm just trying to learn the system and hopefully I'll get to play a lot. I've just been getting in shape and working hard so we can get out there and win."

Gibson said Fortson has stepped in and solidified a position that caused problems for the Lions last season.

"When I first talked to Jarmon, he bragged that he could be a defensive player," said Gibson. "The only thing I saw of him on defense was a YouTube video from when he was at Florida State where he de-cleated a Wake Forest player after an interception. Once he began to play defense for us, I decided to try him at the 'jack' linebacker position and he had three pick-6's for us in the first couple days of camp. Doing things like that will turn some heads. He's just a natural there and makes plays."

Fortson's size and the return of two of the Professional Indoor Football League's top wide receivers in Gerald Gales and Maurice Dupree might lead one to think he'll be more of a possession receiver for the Lions. However, Gibson said fans shouldn't underestimate Fortson's big-play ability.

"Jarmon has more speed than you think," said Gibson. "He's a play-maker and I'm not the only one saying that. His teammates say that, too, and when your fellow players say it, it means even more. He's definitely in it to win it."

Fortson knows he's been given another chance to play the game of football and he's grateful for the chance he has with the Lions this season.

"Right now, I just want to get back to football," said Fortson. "My focus is going the right way. Now is the right time for football to be back in my life. I just thank the Lions for giving me a chance and letting me try out, much less making the roster and starting."

Who: Knoxville Nighthawks (0-0) at Columbus Lions (0-0)

Where: Columbus Civic Center

When: Today, 4 p.m.

Notes: The season opener is "Military Appreciation Day", with all service members and dependents (with proper I.D.) being able to purchase upper level tickets for $5...Fans can listen to and watch the game on the Lions' Web site, Click on the "Listen Live" link on the right side of the home page....Columbus returns two of the Professional Indoor Football League's top three receivers in Gerald Gales and Maurice Dupree. Gales is the Lions' all-time leader in catches (326), yards (4,205) and touchdowns (87)...Also back is linebacker Justen Rivers, the franchise's all-time leader in tackles (189) and sacks (28)...After today's game, the Lions go on the road for three straight contests, traveling to Albany (March 16), Alabama (April 6) and Louisiana (April 13). The Lions' next home game will be April 20 against the Richmond (Va.) Raiders. Kickoff for that game is at 7:30 p.m....In other action around the PIFL this weekend, Alabama edged Lehigh Valley, 29-28, in Huntsville, Ala. in the Steelhawks' PIFL debut and Albany was at Louisiana late Saturday night.

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