Feb. 27, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. - On Thursdays leading up to the Kay Yow Spring Football Game on April 12, GoPack.com will catch up with former Pack players and find out about their lives after their NC State playing days.
#tbt: Jamelle Eugene and DaJuan Morgan get a GRYPP on life after football
When former Wolfpack football players Jamelle Eugene and DaJuan Morgan were roommates at the College Inn, they often talked about the future. They wondered what NFL teams they would play for, how long their careers would last and maybe even about how much money they would make following such a lucrative path.
Less than a decade later, the two are still planning for the future, but not the same one they envisioned for themselves almost 10 years ago. Neither one is playing in the NFL, but both believe that what they're doing will make an impact on the sport of football, as well as many other sports, for years to come.
A Long Plane Ride...
Eugene, a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award in 2009, was known as "The Energizer Bunny" by the coaching staff during his playing career. Why? Because he just kept "going and going." He finished his career as one of the ACC's active rushing leaders and won the 2007 Governor's Award, which is given to the Wolfpack's most valuable player.
After he graduated in December of 2009, he began the process of preparing for the NFL draft. "I left State and started to train nonstop," Eugene recalled recently from his home in Atlanta. "But a week before my pro day workouts, I hurt my hamstring and couldn't do anything. I couldn't run or jump."
The hamstring injury worsened as Eugene pushed to come back and earn a shot at playing professional football. He worked out for teams in Canada and in the UFL although his hamstring still wasn't 100 percent.
It was during the plane ride to one of these workouts that his future took an unexpected turn.
"I was on the plane to California and I realized because I had been injured, I hadn't actually touched a ball in a couple of months. I had run, but I hadn't caught a pass in a while. I didn't want to wear gloves during the workout because although they assist with catching the ball, they aren't as effective at maintaining control and the worst thing a running back can do is fumble. So I realized I would need to tape my fingers like I had done at State. I was trying to figure out where I was going to buy tape once I landed."
With a five-hour plane ride ahead of him, Eugene started thinking about the benefits of gloves versus tape. "A back or receiver needs something to absorb the impact of the ball. And because as a running back, I took pride in blocking, I needed something to reduce friction and eliminate cuts and abrasions. Gloves will do those things, but they don't give you a good feel for the ball. Taping the fingers works, but it doesn't have any grip to help with catching."
With the napkin that was provided with his complimentary beverage, Eugene began sketching out the features of what he thought would strike the perfect balance between gloves and tape. When the napkin was full and the ideas were still flowing, he pulled out his phone (he assures it was on `airplane' mode) and began to type out his ideas.
Meanwhile, down in South Florida...
After leading the Wolfpack in tackles, passes broken up and interceptions as a junior in 2007, DaJuan Morgan decided he was ready to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft. The next April, Kansas City selected the hard-hitting safety in the third round and Morgan embarked on what he expected to be a lengthy stint in the NFL.
It turned into a disappointing couple of years. After his first year with the Chiefs, his head coach was fired and new management came in. He played one more campaign with the franchise and was let go. The next season, he was picked up by Indianapolis, but the day before the Colts were scheduled to play (ironically) the Chiefs, he was cut.
"It was terrible," Morgan remembers. "I had my family on the plane coming to see me play the next day when I found out I had been cut. The next Monday I had a workout with the Lions and then with the Redskins. Then the lockout came. It was really eye-opening."
After bouncing from team to team, Morgan says he began to realize that perhaps his future didn't include football. "I began to reevaluate my life. I knew that God was calling me to do something else so I began to walk in that direction."
After a final stop in New York with the Jets, he headed back home to South Florida. A month later, a text message from his old roommate helped him see what that direction was.
The idea grows
Life got in the way when it came to acting on Eugene's innovative idea. He continued to pursue his dreams of playing football and ended up in Canada with former Wolfpack assistant coach Marc Trestman. More injuries and homesickness cut that trip short, so he headed home to Naples, Fla. arriving in time to actually deliver his daughter Brielle after the doctor sent them home and told them the baby wasn't coming for at least another day.
The new father decided it was time to hang up the cleats and started training to become a life insurance salesman, a job which took a lot of time but had little financial benefit. It also was a career that he had no passion for.
But in the back of his mind, he never quit thinking about his idea, which he had decided to call Gryppers.
"Every time I went in the gym, my thoughts were less and less about football and more and more about Gryppers." he remembers. "One day, I was driving home mad because I had just paid for a new tire for my car and I realized that I had to do something different."
As soon as he got home, he texted his old roommate.
A Fashion Statement
Ironically, Eugene decided to go to Morgan with his idea not only because of his football knowledge or business savvy, but because of his fashion sense.
"When DaJuan was at NC State, fashion was a part of his game. If he saw somebody wearing something unique, he wanted to wear it too. We both wore spats. We both wore towels. And I knew that I wanted Gryppers to be functional, but fashionable too.
"So I texted DaJuan and he called me and I started to pitch him. Before I even finished, he was in. His knowledge of the game of football added to the final development of the product."
The Unknown Path
For the past year and a half, the two former roommates have worked tirelessly to make their now-shared dream a reality. The two sport management majors found themselves seeking knowledge that they never realized they would need.
They spent hours researching the steps they needed to take to make sure the idea was protected. They filed for intellectual property so nobody else could steal their concept. They filed for a design patent, a utility patent and an intentional patent. They found a prototyping company to work with and a manufacturing liaison (KDK Technology) that connected them with Chinese manufacturers. Through this process they have learned about import, export, and freight costs.
Morgan's wife, Meek, is the co-owner of a marketing company. They helped finalize the colors and placed a focus on the branding aspect of the company, really making sure the brand was as valuable as the product. As Morgan says, "They brought it to life."
As their research expanded, they realized that they were developing a product that was not limited to the sport of football. "This product gives you a natural feel of whatever you're gripping," Morgan explains. "In an athletic glove, everything is covered up. With Gryppers, you feel the ball or other objects but have the protection that a glove can't give you. Also, fingers aren't stable inside of a glove so Gryppers can be used as a medical device to help prevent injury."
The applications are seemingly endless - in addition to more traditional sports, Gryppers can be used in archery, by the armed forces, in martial arts. Even construction workers and motorcycle enthusiasts have inquired about them. The pair is in the process of researching what materials to source for each type of user and each application.
Last year, Gryppers was selected as one of a handful of new products selected out of thousands of entries to be presented at the Under Armour Futures Competition. In October, the former roommates headed to Baltimore to take part in that prestigious event. USA Today called it "Under Armour meets American Idol."
Since then, interest has soared from a multitude of different areas. The pair can't discuss all of the plans that might be in the works, but they have decided that their product is ready for market.
"We finally had to stop tweaking it," says Eugene. "We want everything to be perfect, so we kept making changes that would stall us. But this is a consumer product. We were consumers and that's where the idea and design originated. We know that the people who use Gryppers will tell us what they want out of the product and we will give that to them."
From Dream to Reality
Gryppers will officially be available on March 7, when they begin taking preorders on the website. On May 1, the product will be officially on sale. Eugene and Morgan are already thinking of what comes next for their enterprise.
"One day, we want to be to NC State what Nike is to Oregon and what Under Armour is to Maryland," says Morgan. "We want to make the whole uniform."
"Can you imagine being the person who invented the glove?" asks Eugene. "If it was patented, every single person who ever wore a glove would basically have to come through you. That's what we want to do. Imagine creating a product that instantly increased performance. We want Gryppers to be the product of choice for athlete."
Both Eugene and Morgan say that their faith in God has led them to this point. They encourage each other in their faith and pray about decisions that they have to make.
Right now, Gryppers are in a storage unit in Miramar, Florida. In a couple of months, the old teammates hope that they will be all over the world.