Jabari Salaam Takes it All the Way in Madden
How one Alabama teen’s success in esports has cleared a path to college
Within the greater PlayVS community, we’ve examined countless esports programs that have brought schools together, provided opportunities to disadvantaged students, and have given gamers something bigger to play for. Benefits have ranged from better attendance and performance in the classroom to new friendships and happier teens.
Still, if you’re wondering just how far a single player can go in scholastic esports, look no further than Jabari Salaam. The senior at Bob Jones High School has won two Alabama state titles playing Madden for his school’s esports program, and these successes have translated into esports scholarship offers from three different schools: Bethel University, Siena Heights University, and Huntingdon University.
“It's a blessing that I can go to college for gaming,” says Salaam when asked how it feels to receive so many offers based on his achievements. “It's a kid's dream to go to college and play video games.”
Salaam, who wants to major in cybersecurity, has been playing Madden for years. The player’s introduction to the franchise was on his fifth birthday, when he was given an Xbox 360 with a copy of the game. He’s been loyal to the franchise ever since, honing his skills with each new installment.
When Bob Jones started up an esports program and offered Madden as one of the options, Salaam saw an opportunity to take his favorite game to the next level while supporting his school at the same time. The experience has proven to be rewarding in more ways than one.
“It's a blessing that I can go to college for gaming. It's a kid's dream to go to college and play video games.”
It’s not just bragging rights or college offers, however. Salaam says that news of his wins has been a source of pride shared across campus, and a huge influence on getting his fellow students involved in his school’s esports program.
“I have friends who joined esports because I have offers to go to college and game, so they're trying to do the same thing I'm doing.”
Of course, with so many students inspired to pick up a controller after seeing Salaam’s example, there’s going to be some who are vying for his title. The Madden champ has some advice for anyone looking to take the crown from him.
“Practice, practice, and practice. Master a formation and know what plays beat what defensive play,” emphasizes Salaam. “The biggest thing that helped me was to play Madden Ultimate Team.”
And Jabari’s record speaks for itself:
Salaam stresses that learning the ins-and-outs of each team will keep players adaptable in any situation.
“I use the Panthers because they have fast corners. For offense. I run either Rams, Pats, or Raiders. For defense, I run Ravens on current and Chiefs on next.”
While Salaam says that it’s crucial to put in the hours before matches, he also acknowledges that maintaining a strong mindset during competition and the ability to learn from mistakes are just as important. This mental context is embodied by a quote the player has held on to:
“Failure doesn't mean game over; it means try again with experience.”
Campus culture, new relationships, and opportunities to explore career options are all factors influencing which scholarship offer Salaam will eventually take. While he hasn’t yet decided which school he’ll spend the next four years at, he is certain that he will be following one of his biggest passions in that time.
“The thing I'm looking for the most is esports,” explains Salaam. “I know it's going to be a challenge because there will be more competition and more pressure for bigger tournaments. Representing my school in different states and tournaments got to be super fun.”
In the meantime, there’s still two more high school seasons the senior plans on competing in Madden NFL 23 leagues for Bob Jones, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“My goal for the Fall season is to not lose a game and become a three-time state champ."
Though he’s dedicated to taking the title again, Salaam still thinks there’s room in the arena for everyone. He hopes that other students around the country can benefit from esports just like he has.
“For all the people trying to get into esports, just do it. There's no negatives to it - straight positives.”
With stories like Salaam’s, it’s hard to disagree.