While Jahleel Addae was growing up, he raced off the youth football field every day after practice to get in his dad's car, drink some Gatorade and whip on his soccer gear for travel squad practice.
"That was when I knew he was something special," said Freddie Addae, his father. "He would do football, go to soccer and dominate, then come home eat dinner and get the books done."
The last time Jahleel played football in the Tampa Bay area was for Riverview High in 2007. After five years at Central Michigan, he returns home to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Saturday at Tropicana Field.
"It's great that this game is here," Jahleel Addae said. "A college all-star game could be anywhere in the country, and it's right here in my back yard. I can put on for my city and for the people that love and support me; former teachers, family and friends that have shown me love through the years."
When Addae left Riverview he was a highly recruited running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of his last three seasons. Originally committed to West Virginia, Addae ended up at CMU after a coaching change and was switched to wide receiver before finding his calling at strong safety.
"I've been coaching for 24 years, and I've never seen a running back like him," said Dan O'Regan, Addae's coach at Riverview. "Jahleel had unbelievable vision. He had eyes in the back of his head. He would do flips, cut left and right — everyone stopped and watched when he had the ball to see what he would do."
When he switched positions, Addae had a secret weapon. His older brother Jahmile, also a Riverview graduate, was a standout free safety at West Virginia, where he earned first-team All-Big East honors as a junior and senior.
"I was used to having the ball in my hand all the time," Addae said. "When (the switch) first happened, I called Jahmile right away. He told me to relax. He gave me a lot of tips. That summer I came home and did a lot of ball drills with him, a lot of defensive back drills. As the years went on, he just continued to let me grow into my own player."
During his five years at CMU, Addae was named the team's defensive player of the year as a junior and shared the honor as a senior. He made an All-Mid-American Conference team the past three years as a safety and was named to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list, which goes to the nation's top defensive back, before his senior year. He also received a business degree at CMU and is working toward a masters.
"I'm proud of him, not so much of the football player, but the person he is," Freddie Addae said. "He loves the Lord. It's humbling what he is doing with his gifts from God; that's what drives him."
Addae sends his father a bible verse every morning, much to his father's pleasure. On Sunday, Addae and the rest of the game participants went to the Shriners Hospital to visit children.
"The all-star game, playing on national television and having an opportunity to display my talent is amazing, and I'm looking forward to it so much," Addae said. "But the biggest thing for me this week was playing with these kids dancing, putt-putting and seeing a smile on the kids' faces with all they are going through. It's very humbling and makes you very grateful for what you have."
After the Shrine Game, Addae gets a day off before going to work at 8:30 a.m. Monday in the fields for footwork drills with Athletes Edge training, trying to get his NFL dream. Addae said after one week of workouts there he gained 6 pounds while losing body fat and feeling more agile.
"It's so hard to tell if a guy will make it in the NFL or not," O'Regan said. "Jahleel has his intelligence on his side, and he has stayed injury-free. He's going to get a chance with a team through the draft or free agency, and I can't imagine the team not keeping him."
Freddie Addae is expecting 50 or 60 friends and family at the game Saturday to support his son.
Both Addaes said those days of doing both practices up until his sophomore year of high school were vital to his success now. Addae played sweeper in soccer, the last line of defense in charge of running down defenders, similar to a safety in football.
"Soccer helped my stamina for running, my footwork and how to keep my balance," Addae said. "Make sure I clean up the defense from side to side."
Times correspondent Bryan Burns contributed to this story.