What a start

Rashad Jeanty. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

Rashad Jeanty. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

On the eve of the NFL regular-season opener for the Cincinnati Bengals, Rashad Jeanty is having the time of his life.

"It's absolutely a dream," the former Edmonton Eskimo exclaimed.

"But it hasn't really sunk in yet."

However, when he steps on the grass at famed Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City tomorrow afternoon for the first Sunday of the NFL season, it's bound to hit him square between the eyes.

Considered a longshot to even crack the Bengals' 53-man roster when training camp began, Jeanty will not only start on special teams tomorrow, he could start at linebacker because of a hamstring injury to David Pollack.

"There's a 50-50 chance," he remarked. "We're splitting reps at practice, but I'm preparing myself that I'll start."

Getting the starting nod on defence for the reigning AFC North Champions would be a fitting part to a Cinderella story for Jeanty.

Losing his father at age five and living in an ugly Miami neighbourhood, Jeanty lost several friends to gunshots while growing up and has two cousins serving life terms in prison.

But he avoided the lure of selling drugs and became the 14th-ranked high school football player in the U.S.

An NFL career seemed like a real possibility until he walked out of college after his second year to join the Edmonton Eskimos.

While making a major name for himself north of the border - eight sacks in 14 games last year will do that - he quietly sent money back to Miami so his mother could rent an apartment after being evicted from her home.

But now money isn't a worry for anyone in the Jeanty family.

By cracking the Bengals' opening day roster, the 23-year-old will earn $275,000 US this year - a staggering raise from the $70,000 salary he would have earned with the Eskimos if he had stayed for a fourth season this summer.

"I've never owned anything like a car before," said Jeanty, who has his eyes and heart set on soon purchasing a 2007-model Suburban.

"I'm kind of a truck guy and I fell in love with that Suburban."

He has other plans for his suddenly large salary.

"After the season I want to set a (financial) foundation for my family," continued the six-foot-two, 245 pounder.

But at the moment the only thing that matters is getting ready for tomorrow's game - and the Bengals' daily schedule is gruelling compared to a regular day in Eskimoland.

"I got spoiled in Edmonton," Jeanty stated.

"I get in (to the practice facility) at 7 a.m. to get my head right for meetings that start at 8:15 a.m.," he detailed.

The meetings last until the 2 1/2-hour practice starts at 1 p.m.

"And there is another meeting after practice."

It's almost a 10-hour day compared to a 4 1/2-hour day in Edmonton.

In a season that lasts until Dec. 31, it could be quite a grind. But, at least he's being treated really well in a locker-room where he's a rookie.

In fact, star quarterback Carson Palmer stunned Jeanty in the first week of training camp when he said hello and called him by name.

"I didn't even think he was talking to me," said Jeanty.

"I shook my head. I was like, 'How do you know my name?'"

If he has a smashing debut on special teams and/or defence tomorrow, Jeanty's name in Cincinnati is only going to grow.

FINISH LINES: The bright lights and big money with the Bengals hasn't meant Jeanty has forgotten his CFL roots.

Already fully aware of the Eskimos' struggles without him this summer, he didn't need any prompting to know Edmonton played the Calgary Stampeders last night.

"It's quite disappointing," Jeanty said of the Green and Gold's season to date."Hopefully they'll get a playoff spot."


Videos

Photos