Back in middle school, DeJon Gomes’s P.E. teacher assigned a project that required all of the class’s students to learn how to juggle.
The teacher stood in front of the class and began showing students how to do it, but after watching for a minute or two, Gomes said he had it all figured out. He started juggling while others continued to struggle.
“I figured it out pretty much after watching. It’s pretty simple,” says Gomes, whom the Redskins selected as a safety out of Nebraska in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday. “I caught on pretty quickly and picked it up. I guess because it was graded. I don’t know.”
Ever since, Gomes has exhibited a knack for juggling and adapting quickly, on and off the field.
He starred as a running back at Logan High School in Union City, Calif., and attended City College of San Francisco, where he switched to cornerback after seeing a need at that position. He figured it would be better for his career in the long run.
He was right. After two impressive seasons, which included helping the Rams win the national championship, he landed at Nebraska, where he lined up all over the field. Gomes was listed as a safety, but was asked to cover receivers in the slot, line up as a linebacker at times and play centerfield as a traditional free safety.
“He’s always around the ball,” says former Nebraska receiver Niles Paul, who also was drafted in the fifth round by Washington. “Even at practices, he was always nagging us and we’d be like, ‘How did he come up with that play?’”
In two seasons, Gomes tallied 154 tackles and seven interceptions.
“I guess the key is just my overall knowledge of football,” says Gomes, who last season ranked second on the team with 99 tackles and third in interceptions with three. “I played on all different sides of the ball, so that helps.”
Mike Shanahan and the Redskins coaches were impressed with Gomes’ versatility and understanding of the game and plan on using him as a free safety.
“Very smart player, forces a lot of turnovers,” Shanahan said. “He does have the ability play some nickel, play some linebacker inside. Very heady player, comes up with a lot of big plays, and just talking to the coaching staff, talking to players, he’s one of those leaders that can tell you what everybody does. He can draw up the defense, linebackers and secondary. Not only do we get a guy that can run that 4.5 [second] range [in the 40-yard dash], but can contribute not only as a DB, but special teams as well.”
Aware that the Redskins have a formidable starting safety tandem in LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe, Gomes said he is banking on using his versatility to get onto the field in any situation.
Having grown up a Denver Broncos fan, Gomes was thrilled when he answered his phone Saturday and Mike Shanahan was on the line.
“It was the realization of a childhood dream,” he says.
But Gomes admits that since this past weekend, he hasn’t had much time to think about his professional career. This is finals week at Nebraska, and Gomes, who will graduate with a degree in psychology, is studying for and taking six final exams.
“It’s been pretty stressful, so I’ll be able to really think about it after this week,” he said. “I may move to Washington later this month to get closer and to meet a couple of my teammates. But if all else fails, I’ll just keep working out until [the NFL lockout] is taken care of.”
By the way, Gomes hasn’t stopped juggling. During the offseasons at Nebraska, he would take his act on the road. He and other football players took part in charity basketball games around Nebraska. Gomes would always provide halftime entertainment by juggling basketballs, tennis balls, oranges and apples.