From UNI Football Star To Viral TikTok Sensation
The first time I interviewed Jaylin James, we talked about his aspirations of competing at the highest level -- playing wide receiver in the NFL.
Over his tenure of playing football at UNI, it gradually became more and more of a possibility. In his senior season playing for the Panthers, James caught 32 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns. As a junior, it was 38 catches for 400 yards and three touchdowns.
The numbers he put up aren't outlandish, but his frame and size (6'4, 207 pounds) paired with the caliber of athletes that have come out of Cedar Falls should have been enough for him to get noticed by at least one team in the NFL. He should've had some level of opportunity, but it never came.
Blame it on the pandemic (UNI's Pro Day was canceled), blame it on the stats, blame it on his agent, whatever you want -- 2020 was a year of silence for the NFL-hopeful.
He didn't let the adversity deter him, though.
Over the following year, Jaylin moved back home with his parents in Des Moines and continued to train. He prepared for UNI's Pro Day in 2021, where he would finally be able to show off his athleticism to NFL Scouts.
See his testing results below:
Jaylin said this of the experience:
It went really well. My agent just couldn't get me a workout. ... I don't why. That's still a question that lingers in my head. ... The NFL was everything I wanted and more, and it just didn't work out.
After the call never came, James determined it was time for him to get a 'real world' job.
By way of a few random connections, he was able to get a job as a medical sales rep in Kansas City. All the while, he was active on a variety of social media platforms, including TikTok.
Right before he moved south, he had his first video go viral.
It was basically 'Let me introduce myself to the TikTok world,'
he told me.
It was a bunch of pictures of me, and that was it really. ... I started in September of 2020.
After that, James says he saw an opportunity to move forward with his newfound following:
It was kind of like a 'Maybe this will work, I'm just going to go for it.' I've always loved being in front of the camera. It's always been fun to me. ... So, I ran with it. I didn't think anything of it. I didn't think 'Oh, I can make so much money doing this,' or anything of that sort.
He tried, and he succeeded. With a mixture of dancing, comedic, and adventure videos, James' has amassed nearly 3 million followers and his most-viewed TikTok has been seen over 25-million times.
The former Panther wide out says there have only been a couple times where his fame has really stuck out in his daily life, though:
This was around January of 2021 -- I had like 500,000 followers. Not as many as I have right now. I was at Chipotle, and the guy working the cash register was like 'Do you make TikToks?' I looked around (confused) and was like, 'Oh, me?' He said 'Yeah, I see your TikToks all the time!' I was like 'Wow, thanks, bro! I appreciate it.'
Here's the second time:
Last year I went to Miami for the Social Gloves fight. I ended up getting onto the arena floor where all the celebrities were. ... I met up with another content creator that I knew, and people were coming up to him asking for pictures. I had one person come up to me and say 'Hey, I see your videos all the time! Can I get a picture?' and I said 'Yeah, of course!'
As we were leaving, I had a flood of people come up to me and ask for a picture and autographs. I was like 'Uh, yeah, I think I'm famous now.' It was wild. ... I was like, 'This is surreal.'
The recent fame resulted in an invitation to a private party held by rapper Drake that was held prior to the Super Bowl. James listed off a variety of celebrity gamers who attended the party as well as Cleveland Browns' defensive lineman Myles Garrett and multi-talented artist and actor, Jamie Foxx.
Literally, I can't name any more because there were so many (famous) people,
Since his explosion onto the social media scene, James has been introduced to a variety of social media stars, and now, he lives with several others in a house provided to them by LiveNation. The group is called Last2Leave: Miami.
It's a partnership house between LiveNation Entertainment and Underscore Talent Agency ... LiveNation is an entertainment company that puts on big concerts and events. Basically, in exchange for us living in this five million dollar house for free, being provided food, and a bunch of other stuff, they send us to these events to help promote.
Amid all the opportunities, connections, and fame, Jaylin finds his grounding in his faith:
I know God has more planned for me. I say that because I thought football was everything to me until I realized it wasn't, and that God was. Once I truly believed where I truly needed to go was to God, not only did my perspective change, but my life changed. ... There's a saying I really like -- 'Happiness is based on circumstances around you, joy is based on Jesus.' My joy everyday comes from the fact that Jesus loves me, and he saved my life.
Jaylin and the Last2Leave crew each maintain their own individual social media channels while sharing a YouTube platform, and they will soon release a podcast.