The following week brought the best performance of Jamaal’s freshman year and one of the biggest outputs of his career. He exploded for 189 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-10 victory over an in-state foe in Rice. After that came another multi-touchdown game against Missouri, but it was the next game that was perhaps the best of that first regular season for Jamaal.
In the famed and heated Red River Rivalry game against Oklahoma, No. 25 snapped for 116 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. He notched an 80-yard touchdown run to give UT a 14-6 lead early, and the Horns never looked back in a 45-12 blowout—the school’s first win over OU in five years.
From there, the Horns just went on, waxing every opponent they faced. In nine Big 12 Conference wins, they triumphed by an average margin of 37.2 points per game, scoring 52.8 points per contest.
Then came college football’s main attraction: the BCS National Championship Game—taking place in The Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. UT was matched up with USC, the team that spent the entire year ranked at No. 1 ahead of the Horns, and what followed was one of the most thrilling championship games in sports history.
It ended up as the Vince Young show. Jamaal tallied 34 yards on five carries in the shootout, but the Texas quarterback hogged the spotlight, including an eight-yard score in the waning seconds to cap a legendary performance and give the Longhorns the national title in a 41-38 victory.
Jamaal still remembers it as one of the greatest moments of his life.
“That was one of the best moments I ever had,” Jamaal says. “I had never won a championship in my life, and I finally won one on a collegiate level. How many people are there who can say they did that? That year was off the chain. I came in at the right time at UT.”
A SEASON OF GROWTH
In the spring after winning that national championship, Jamaal donned the burnt orange once again and took to the track, where he helped the Horns earn a third-place finish at the NCAA finals—the squad’s best since 1997.
He earned All-American honors in the 60-meter indoor, as well as 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay outdoors. He was also the outdoor Big 12 Champion in the 100-meter, tallying a blazing time of 10.23 seconds.
However, after performing below his personal expectations on the football field during his sophomore year, his career on the track was finished.
The second season for Jamaal was one of change for the UT program. The squad was stripped after the championship year—gone were Vince Young and several other stars, but as always in Austin, there was an expectation for excellence.
With the departures, Jamaal became more of a focal point of the offense, earning 37 more carries than as a freshman, however, he didn’t have the breakout year he hoped he would. He broke 100 yards just once: a 109-yard outburst against the same Rice team he torched for 189 and three scores the year prior.
The Horns finished the regular season at 8-3 and earned an Alamo Bowl berth against the Iowa Hawkeyes. That game provided one big highlight. Jamaal pulled down a 72-yard touchdown reception from Colt McCoy to help propel UT past Iowa in a 26-24 nail biter.
While the season didn’t go the way JC hoped, it was a learning experience, and through the trying year, he decided to drop track and focus on football. And he learned to better accept his role as a leader in the UT locker room.
“It is a way different feeling, knowing that I’m going to be the guy back there starting. I know I have to work hard because everybody is going to be there, depending on me to carry the rock every play,” he says. “I have to be a leader now and lead the other running backs. I tell (the coaches) to leave me in during practice so I can get used to the game. I want to play hard during practice so I can be ready for the games.”
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
When Jamaal returned for fall practice, everyone noticed the change in their starting running back.
He came back bulked up at 205 pounds, ready to carry a full load for the Horns. The team knew he was disappointed in how 2006 went, and knew that he was poised for a better 2007.
“Jamaal didn’t have the season he wanted to last year,” McCoy says, “and we didn’t run as consistently as we needed to.”