Jarrod Bunch was a standout running back at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s, serving as captain on the Wolverines’ 1990 team. Selected in the first round of the 1991 draft by the New York Giants, he averaged 4.8 yards per rushing attempt in 1992, ranking second in the NFL.
His playing career was cut short due to injuries and he then transitioned to coaching and even became a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He’s an actor and producer, too, playing the role of a young George Foreman in the Emmy award-winning HBO film Don King: Only in America. He’s also appeared in numerous prime time television series and acted in more than 100 commercials.
The Ashtabula, OH native turned 52 on Sunday. He talked with me about collecting his own rookie cards, signing autographs for other players’ parents in high school and dealing with Lawrence Taylor in practice.
TR–You were a standout running back at the University of Michigan and the New York Giants first round draft pick in 1991. Being a high level athlete, when was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
JB-I was in high school and someone, out of the blue, asked me. I think it was a parent. They asked if I would sign the item while I was still there because they thought I was going to go on and do great things.
TR–Being a former University of Michigan player, you consider Bo Schembechler a very influential figure in your life. Who else helped mold you as a young player?
JB-Bo was the head coach that I remember the most because of the age I met him. I never knew football was played at that level. I just thought of it as something that was fun. He came in and showed me what college football was all about and what it could do for your life.
My favorite coach was Tirrel Burton, who was the running backs coach at Michigan. He’d been there with Bo since 1969. He has always been that guy for me. Even as coach now, whether I want to or not, coach Burton comes out. I think that is just because even when he was coaching he was in his 70s, but you would never know it. He would run with us. He did all of the drills with us.
TR– As a young kid playing football in the backyard and in the street who did you want to emulate or collect?
JB– I didn’t have any posters or anything. I loved playing football but I didn’t watch it a lot. My father and my brother loved to watch football on Sunday. I was like, ‘man my cartoons are on. You are making me miss my cartoons!’ Then my uncle said that the reason why I needed to watch football was to pick up some of the moves and the other things those guys are doing if I wanted to play football at a higher level when I got older. That’s when I started to look at players and look at positions. I looked at it as a way to get out of my small hometown.
TR–Your rookie cards appeared in all of the major products in 1991. Do you remember the very first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
JB– I sure do. I have a picture of it on my wall right here. I am looking at it right now. I don’t think the card company that did this one is still in business. It was all of the top draft picks. We were all wearing something from the team that drafted us. I had on a coat from the Giants. I remember doing the photo shoot. We did it in Solider Field in Chicago.
TR–It’s interesting because about half of your rookie cards are in your Michigan uniform and the other half were in your Giants uniform once the season started. That’s pretty cool, right?
JB– Yeah sometimes they were in home Michigan uniforms. Some of them were in away Michigan uniforms. Sometimes the helmet was airbrushed out but you still knew it was Michigan. Then I have some Giants rookie cards, which is nice.
TR–Did you manage to get your hands on a few of them back then?
JB-They just kept coming out. It was great when you see that first one. You want to keep it. I have them because the companies sent them to me. I was glad to see it and I loved seeing the first one.
TR–Do have an area where you have your football items displayed?
JB– I do. It’s not all my own. My wife also shares this office, so I have a shelf! I have a bookcase where I have some of my memorabilia.
TR–The post-game jersey swap is a relatively new tradition in the game. Do you wish that was something players did more when you were on the field?
JB– It wasn’t a big thing but I wish it was. I would have been right up in there switching and asking for jerseys all the time. When I played against some of the guys I would sit and watch at home, I would have definitely asked for those jerseys.
TR–What players jersey would you have asked for first during your playing days?
JB-The main one was my teammate Lawrence Taylor. I remember saying prior to getting drafted that I didn’t look forward to blocking Lawrence Taylor. Then it turned out I had to face him in practice every day.
TR–Taylor is widely considered the greatest defensive player in the history of the game. Some would argue that he was the best football player the game has even seen. Is there a quick LT story you can share with us?
JB-Man, there are so many. This is just about him the player. I would never see him in the weight room. He was not the weight room guy. On game day, I would see him take hits and get twisted up and the next day he would come in like nothing happened. During the summer we wouldn’t ever see him for summer conditioning but come the first day of training camp he would knock it out like nothing. Man, he had something. It’s obvious that he had some special talent and he put it to good use.