According to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Jamain Stephens died on Tuesday, September 8, at the age of 20. The announcement came via the California University of Pennsylvania, where Jamain “Juice” Stephens Jr. was a defensive lineman. He played in 32 games at Cal U from 2017-19 and was entering his senior season, majoring in business administration.
GEN: Cal U mourns the loss of senior football player Jamain Stephens https://t.co/yrL45ndo9k
— Cal U Athletics (@calvulcans) September 8, 2020
“Jamain was such a wonderful student with a smile on his face every time you saw him,” said the California University of Pennsylvania Athletic Director Dr. Karen Hjerpe in a release. “His personality was contagious and he made such a positive impact on everyone he met.”
Stephens was a graduate of Central Catholic High School, where he played football, helping the school to win district championships in 2015 and 2016 and the Pennsylvania state title in 2015. Per KDKA, the school originally said Stephens died “after suffering from complications of COVID-19.”
The school, though, later retracted that statement, removing mention of COVID-19 and amending its Facebook post to read, “We had obtained the information about his passing from close friends of Jamain, who reached out to us with the news. We apologize for this error, and this information has since been removed from our Facebook announcement dated 9/8/2020. At this time, we do not have official confirmation on his cause of death.”
Current Steelers guard Stefen Wisniewski is a graduate of Central Catholic, as is NFL legend Dan Marino.
Jamain Stephens: Steelers First-Round Pick in 1996
Jamain Stephens Sr. was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 1996, selected No. 29 overall out of North Carolina A&T, three picks after the Baltimore Ravens selected linebacker Ray Lewis. He played in eight games with one start in 1997 and 11 games with 10 starts in 1998.
He was released at the beginning of training camp in 1999 when he failed to complete Bill Cowher’s “run test”—a series of 14 40-yard dashes—on the first day of camp, the only Steelers player to do so. He went on to spend three more seasons in the NFL, all with the rival Cincinnati Bengals but appeared in just 21 games—making only four starts—the rest of his career.
Jamain Stephens & the 1996 NFL Draft
All told, Stephens appeared in 40 games and made 15 starts during his five-year career, never living up to his draft status. In Pro Football Weekly’s 1996 Draft Preview, Joel Buchsbaum and the editors of PFW rated Stephens as the third-best offensive lineman in the draft, behind Jonathan Ogden and Willie Anderson—selected fourth overall and 10th overall by the Ravens and Bengals, respectively—and ahead of Pete Kendall and Jeff Hartings, the former going to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 21 overall and the latter to the Detroit Lions at No. 23.
Buchsbaum argued that Stephens—at 6-foot-6 and 338 pounds—had “tremendous upside potential” but was also a long-term project, calling him a “great physical specimen” but one who needed a lot of work on his technique and time to learn the nuances of offensive line play.
Notably, the aforementioned Hartings eventually came to play for the Steelers. After spending the first five years of his career playing right guard for the Lions, Hartings played six seasons as the starting center in Pittsburgh, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2004 and Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2005.
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