On the eve of the 2022 NFL Draft, Nebraska linebacker JoJo Domann is content. Wherever he’ll be selected, and wherever he’ll go, Domann is only grateful. Domann is a man who dedicates every fiber of his being to becoming the best human he can be. And now, he’s on the doorstep of making his dream a reality.
The origination of a dream
As he enters the call, JoJo Domann is walking through a house, earbuds in. He’s trying to find a place to settle for the interview. Just before, he’d been on the phone with Trent Bray, the coach who originally brought him to Nebraska. That conversation with Bray proved to be a precursor for Domann — a catalyst for reflection. Domann certainly has a lot to reflect on.
Domann has been playing football for as long as he can remember. And he’s been around the game even longer. With his father being an NFL agent, Domann inherited the football life. He’d go to non-profit football camps and venture into locker rooms. At his father’s hip, he’d meet players in the parking lot after games. It all brought Domann’s love for the game closer to the surface.
“It got to a point where I started to create some personal relationships with these seemingly superheroes,” he said. “At that point, I looked up to these guys. I loved athletics. I loved competing. And I just wanted to be like those guys. That’s kind of when my heart knew this is for me.”
An undeniable future in football
Athletics was a center of worship for Domann and his family. He was active from an early age and played football and soccer leading up to eighth grade. There was a point, however, where it became clear that football was different.
“My eighth-grade year. I remember after a football game — my dad was telling me this yesterday — we had to hurry off to a soccer game in Denver. And I was just sitting on the hill crying. It was just too much for me. There was so much going on, I was exhausted. I loved football. And it was at that point that my parents saw that maybe it’s time to just focus on football.”
Domann’s father dropped everything to help set him on the path. Domann credits his father for helping to instill his love for the game. But the impact of his father and his family goes much further.
“They’ve guided me by always being there,” Domann said. “Always believing in me. I think for all of us, we have those moments where we doubt ourselves. And then we look at the people in our life, and they’re pouring love and belief and positivity into us. And it makes us think, like, ‘Man, why am I not doing this for myself?’ Even this past year, nothing changed. Going into my sixth year, Craig was like, ‘just keep doing what you’re doing, and double down on it.’
“He was telling me my freshman year in college, ‘Be a pro now. Just wait, and you will end up being a pro at some point.'”
Going through the recruiting process
Once Domann committed to football, there was no going back. Domann went to high school at Pine Creek in Colorado and played varsity for three years. There, he did everything. On offense, he carried the ball out of the backfield and caught passes. On defense, he made plays in the air and in the backfield. And he was also the team’s kicker and punter.
Even now, Domann has a fondness for the role of a kicker — “I wish Nebraska would’ve let me get filthy with the cleats on, no doubt” — but he knew his all-around versatility gave him a leg up on other prospects. It was ultimately what got him noticed by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers came to Pine Creek to see Domann’s teammate, Avery Anderson. They left well aware of Domann himself.
“All the stars seemingly aligned,” Domann said. “I got a Cal-Berkeley offer the same day as Nebraska, and I forgot I even got the offer because I was so stoked I got Nebraska. What it meant to play football there — the tradition, the history, and the opportunities on and off the field. The opportunity to call myself a Nebraska alumni for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t trade my experience there — the ups and downs, the adversity, the triumphs — for anything.”
The ups and downs, the adversity and triumphs
Domann saw the field as a true freshman. He played primarily on special teams, making a modest impact early. But for Domann, it wasn’t as fulfilling as he expected. He was getting on the field, but that desire to excel and supersede was still there.
Domann entered the 2017 offseason on a mission to take the next step. But his progress was violently halted when he tore his ACL during spring training. For a freshman who was already going against older, stronger, and faster collegiate players, it was almost overwhelming.
“My belief almost vanished, and I had to find that. I found it through the people in my life that continually believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. The actions I took every single day, not only seeing the progress but feeling the progress. From Day 1, where I’m crutching into the facility just to do range-of-motion on my knee, to day 90, where I’m doing BFR, hamstring stuff. Just to see the progression naturally builds that belief.”
Then, Domann tore his ACL again seven months later. That could have broken him. But somewhere along the way, instead of falling down, Domann doubled down. That experience changed his perspective. It changed him.
“I found myself. I became more in touch with my creator, and I created unbelievable relationships that I could lean on in that time, that are still near and dear to me five years later. That seemingly bad experience — all this fruit came from it. So, was it even a bad experience in the first place? I don’t know. Life happens for you, not to you. Maybe an experience is just an experience that we’re supposed to fully feel and fully learn from.”
Becoming a leader at Nebraska
Through his experience with injury, Domann grew. But there was still more growth yet to undergo. Over the next several years, he grew within his role at Nebraska. After the 2021 campaign, he had the opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft and take his chance at making the league. But Domann chose to stay for one more season. And it freed him more than he could’ve known.
“My junior and even my 2020 year, I waited for the green light. I waited. I waited to receive permission to be the fully unapologetic expression of myself. The green light never came. So when I decided to do [return], I made that internal promise to myself: We’re not dimming this light for anybody. It was at that moment where my life changed. Once I made the commitment to just fully be myself unapologetically, the other aspects of my life just started to free-flow, too.”
Domann’s decision to return unlocked a new level for himself. He was the emotional and energetic leader of the Nebraska defense, letting his heart bleed on the Memorial Stadium grounds. Even as the Cornhuskers lost close battles, fighting tooth and nail, Domann was proud of how his team fought, proud to represent the Blackshirts.
“We still played for the Blackshirts because we have pride, and we take pride in playing for Nebraska. That’s what I’ll remember about my time, my sixth year at Nebraska.”
Earning a Senior Bowl invite
On the call, Domann is proudly wearing his Reese’s Senior Bowl shirt with the vibrant orange logo on the front. It was an unbelievable experience, Domann says, and one he wouldn’t have earned without his entire college career.
At Nebraska, Domann learned to be available in any role needed. He played safety, in the box, 3-4 SAM, WILL, MIKE, and slot. He dug out the C-gap and played 4-2-5 hybrid STAR. By 2021, it was all instinct for Domann. And that experience led to a career-defining campaign: Domann amassed 71 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 picks, 3 deflections, and 2 forced fumbles.
Domann grew to a point where he was extremely comfortable in the Nebraska defense. His success earned him that Senior Bowl invite, but when he got there, he had to recalibrate.
“It was honestly uncomfortable. I’m a one-gap guy. To now, where I’m playing WILL linebacker and I got two different gaps, and I’m learning the Lions’ scheme, and I got less than a couple hours to figure it out. It was almost like a wake-up call. This is the intensity that it takes. This is the attention to detail that it takes. It reminded me that I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable again. It validated why I came back, why I needed a sixth year, why I chose to do that sixth year — it all came to fruition.”