High School Football

Football star puts nursing aspirations on hold to try out for Los Angeles Chargers

J.J. Jude rushed for 1,243 yards in two seasons at Georgetown College.
J.J. Jude rushed for 1,243 yards in two seasons at Georgetown College. palcala@herald-leader.com

J.J. Jude was in the middle of an online homework assignment when he received the phone call that could change his life forever.

A semester removed from his final season at Georgetown College, Jude had just about accepted that a future as a pro football player wasn’t in the cards. The former Johnson Central sensation graduated with a health sciences degree in December and wanted to pursue a second degree, so he enrolled in a nursing program through Eastern Kentucky University.

His agent, with whom he signed after working out at EKU’s combine in the winter, called Tuesday night to inform him that he received an invitation to the Los Angeles Chargers’ rookie minicamp this weekend. He was scheduled to fly out to San Diego (where the Chargers are still operating) on Thursday. A successful showing there could lead to a professional contract.

“It’s still sinking in that I get to go play with the big dogs, I guess you could say,” Jude said in a phone interview with the Herald-Leader. “I get halfway through an assignment and I get that call and I’m like, ‘Well, this online class can wait for a while.’”

Jude was an All-State running back at Johnson Central, where he set state records for career rushing (8,633), single-game rushing (584 versus Woodford County as a junior) and season rushing average (255.1 yards per game as a senior) before graduating in 2011. He also owns the No. 2 and No. 5 spots for rushing yards in a single season.

He signed with EKU out of high school and spent three seasons with the Colonels (he redshirted his first year due to a foot injury). After his sophomore season, Jude transferred from EKU and ended up at Georgetown, an NAIA institution where he could play immediately.

Jude’s rushing production in college — 876 yards in two seasons at EKU and 1,243 yards in two years at Georgetown — was respectable but didn’t approach the gaudy numbers he put up in high school. He felt like statistics were always “crawling up behind” him saying he should be doing “this” or “that.”

“I didn’t really put up the numbers I wanted to,” Jude said.

Some of that was due to recovery from injury, something he never had to tackle while in high school. He attributed his durability at the prep level to wrestling, in which he was a two-time state champ. His second sport was critical in keeping his body flexible and conditioned while it was away from football, he said.

Being around coach Jim Matney — who leads the football and wrestling programs at Central — all the time didn’t hurt, either.

“Coach Matney’s done a great job of molding me into the man that I am and he does a great job at Johnson Central with that program,” Jude said. “He’s such a great guy and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

The man Matney molded now has a legitimate chance at achieving a dream he’s carried since he was a kid at Inez Elementary School in Martin County. If this opportunity doesn’t pan out, Jude said, he’ll at least have more time to focus on his homework.

And, he’ll have had a shot he thought might not come.

“I didn’t think that it was gonna happen,” Jude said. “I think God works in mysterious ways and He’s got His hand on me somewhere and I guess we’re meant to be here. We’ll give it our best shot and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I can always say that I made it that far and I gave it everything I had. That’s all I have in me.”

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps