Originally published in The Fordham Ram on May 3, 2017.
The NFL Draft has become a spectacle, even bigger than the names called themselves. That much was clear in its most recent iteration, held in Philadelphia for the first time and basically presented as a music festival.
With how big it has become, we often forget that the players being drafted are basically just kids fresh out of college. And while there are seven rounds in the NFL Draft, there is another subset of players who were not drafted but teams want to give them a shot: undrafted free agents.
Former Fordham defensive back and kick returner Jihaad Pretlow, FCRH ‘17, is now one of those UDFAs, signed by the San Francisco 49ers following the conclusion of the draft on Saturday.
Pretlow was home with family and friends for the draft, hoping his name might pop up in the later rounds. After the draft ended, it became a waiting game to see if he would be signed as a UDFA. While he was on the phone with his agent, his fiancée started recording a video.
The video of the call has gone viral. Pretlow is on the phone, pacing back and forth with a hand on his head. After hanging up the phone, the hand goes to his eyes and he bends over at the waist. “What?” is the refrain from a house full of Pretlow’s biggest fans.
“I’m going to San Francisco!” he says through tears, and the house erupts.
“It was a lot of emotions,” said Pretlow of his reaction to the phone call. “A feeling of accomplishment. But mainly, it was a lot of pride. There was a lot of hard work that went into the situation. And being around friends and family while the phone call was given, you just felt that you’d accomplished something you’ve been trying to do your entire life. A lot of the people that were around me at that moment were people that have been with me since day one and they put a lot of work in with me. They also made the same sacrifices that I made. It was a pretty good moment to be shared.”
Pretlow’s fiancée sent the video to multiple family members, including his cousin Latif Rivers, who plays for the Harlem Globetrotters. Rivers posted the video on his Instagram account and it picked up traction from there. The original video has over 1600 likes, and the tweet of the video from Sports Illustrated has 790 retweets and 1600 likes and has been all over social media ever since.
“It’s been interesting to get the attention and respect from so many people, especially the Niners fans and the many supporters who watch the video,” said Pretlow of the response. “The best thing are those who get inspired by the video to continue to play ball or just to be happy for a fellow human. We all have dreams of fulfilling our dreams.”
Pretlow was a fixture on both defense and special teams in his two years at Fordham after transferring from Temple University. He was named first team All-Patriot League as a defensive back his junior year, and second team his senior year. He had a team-high 11 pass breakups and one interception his senior season and was tied for second in the Patriot League with 1.1 passes defended a game.
He was also second team All-Patriot League as a return specialist both of his years as a Ram. He led the Patriot League and was fourth in the FCS in kickoff return average last season, amassing 511 yards on 18 kickoff returns for an average of 28.4 yards a return.
While the 49ers were not in attendance for the Fordham Pro Day, they were interested throughout the draft process.
“I’m assuming they want me to come out and just show them my versatility,” said Pretlow. “Being a returner, being that I played safety at Temple and then also being that I played cornerback at Fordham, they’re probably looking to see how many different ways I can help the team and which way will be the best possible position.”
Just being signed as a UDFA is not a ticket to a job with an NFL team. As anyone who has watched HBO’s Hard Knocks knows, even draft picks can get cut, forget UDFAs. But Pretlow has multiple motivations, starting with his family.
“My motivation comes from my family primarily my back bone of four brothers and my parents,” said Pretlow. “My dad went through this same process and to go through it following his footsteps is the real dream — being able to complete the journey that we have started when I was six.”
He is also motivated by his fiancée
“Knowing that I’m getting ready to branch off from my immediate family and try and create my own family, that’s another set of motivation because it’s somebody that you choose to be with, somebody that you choose to spend the rest of your life with,” said Pretlow. “And you just want to show them that before this person came into your life, what your life was like and how hard you work. And to implement them into your life and work even harder, it does give you another set of motivation to continue to go forward and have more success. Even though me and my fiancée have been friends for seven years – I met her when I was 15, so she’s pretty much been there for the majority of the successes that I’ve already had up until college – but that just adds another cherry to the ice cream.”
The 49ers used cornerback JaCorey Shepherd as their kick returner last season. He had 456 return yards on 21 returns for an average of 21.7 yards per return, which put him at 13th and 25th in the NFL, respectively.
Pretlow is the second Fordham player in as many years to be picked up by an NFL team following the draft. Last year, offensive lineman Garrick Mayweather Jr. signed on with the Kansas City Chiefs but ultimately was unable to catch on.
The most recent Fordham player to break into the NFL was Patrick Murray, who, after kicking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014, played for the Cleveland Browns for two games last season.
The last former Ram defensive back in the NFL was safety Isa Abdul-Quddus. He completed his sixth season, and first with the Dolphins, last year and is currently a free agent.