THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Mom was on stage singing, but little did her kids know, she was a vocal great among stars.
Since he was a child, Los Angeles Rams safety Jordan Fuller, who is the second of Cindy Mizelle’s three children, remembers watching Mizelle belt out tunes behind some of music’s biggest names: Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Bruce Springsteen.
That’s keeping the list modest.
“You name it, she’s sang with them and she was, at one point, whatever backup singer you wanted, she was the person,” Fuller said, voice proud. “She’s like a G.O.A.T. in that respect.”
So when Fuller arrived in L.A. last year after playing four seasons at Ohio State, he was not overwhelmed by joining a team full of stars with Super Bowl expectations.
“Just been around the bright lights all my life,” Fuller said.
Along with his mom’s stardom, Fuller’s father, Bart Fuller, played safety at TCU. His brother, Devin, played receiver at UCLA and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the seventh round in 2016. Fuller’s uncle is comedian and actor Sinbad. Fuller lives in a house in the greater Los Angeles area with his brother, Devin and Devin’s wife, Lauren, recent NBA and Olympic champion Jrue Holiday and Holiday’s soccer-star wife, also named Lauren, who is an Olympic gold medalist.
A sixth-round pick, No. 199 overall, Fuller’s breakout came in Week 11 last season against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers by intercepting Tom Brady — the most famous 199th overall pick — not once, but twice. On Sunday, Fuller will again be staring down Brady when the undefeated Rams (2-0) play host to the undefeated Bucs (2-0) at SoFi Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), this time as a captain of a Super Bowl-caliber team.
“I was drafted No. 199, too!” Fuller hollered into an NFL camera loud and clear as he was miked up for the game against the Bucs last season. “Don’t forget that!”
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) November 24, 2020
“At first I was just hyped because those were my first interceptions, period, in the league,” Fuller said. “I was just happy about that, but it was cool having us be the same pick in the draft, 199, so that was pretty interesting, a storybook thing.”
Self-doubt crept over Fuller during the draft process, as he let outside voices influence his mindset. Some analysts said Fuller did not have the traits to play either strong or free safety in the NFL. Others knocked the speed of his backpedal and his range.
“I heard like people saying, like, ‘He’s more like this kind of safety, he can’t do this,’ or whatever it was,” Fuller explained. “I heard all that stuff. I was like, ‘Dang, is that true?'”
Before this season, Rams general manager Les Snead expressed disbelief that Fuller remained on the board when the Rams were on the clock to make their sixth-round pick.
“This is the truth,” Snead said, “we probably would have drafted Jordan Fuller with one of our comp picks or one of our third-round picks or one of our fourth-round picks … you shouldn’t wait until the sixth round for someone like Jordan Fuller.”
‘Well beyond his years’
At 23 years old, Fuller is a second-year starter on the NFL’s defending top-ranked defense.
Teammates voted him a captain, while defensive coordinator Raheem Morris entrusted him to be the defensive signal-caller.
“He’s the guy that’s getting us huddled up and giving us the plays now,” three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald said. “He got a lot more pressure, a little bit more on the shoulders, but I think he can handle it.”
Fuller is modest and quiet but has quickly established himself as an ascending star on a roster that includes Donald, quarterback Matthew Stafford and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
He finished his rookie season with three interceptions and five pass deflections, despite missing five games early because of a shoulder injury. This season, Fuller has allowed four receptions on six targets as the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He has one pass defended.
“He has done a tremendous job, super proud of him,” Ramsey said. “But at the same time, we kind of expected this from him when he came in and what he did last year and how mature he was at such a young stage of his career.”
In his first season as Rams defensive coordinator, Morris — a 19-year NFL coaching veteran — quickly identified Fuller’s leadership as an asset to a unit that needed to replace veteran safety John Johnson III, who signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason.
“You’re talking about a young man who is well beyond his years when it comes to football maturity,” Morris said about Fuller. “Well beyond his years when it comes to life maturity.”
That sentiment is echoed by numerous teammates.
“He is a force to be reckoned with ever since he got here,” said receiver Robert Woods, also a team captain who’s practiced daily against Fuller. “He’s a super quiet guy, I would say, but just kind of like does his job, lines people up, knows football.”
Fuller is humble and reluctant to talk about himself, and said he wasn’t exactly sure where his leadership, maturity and competitive nature came from. “It’s just kind of natural, I’m just myself,” he said. “I don’t try to be anybody else. Whatever I feel is required of me in the moment, that’s what I do.”
But his mom and brother, who is four years older, provided some insight.
As the middle child, Mizelle said Jordan was always looking out for his older brother and little sister when she was on the road. Devin also set an example Jordan wanted to follow.
“He always looked up to his big brother,” Mizelle said. “Devin was running track at 9 years old and we used to go take him to the track meets and then he was like, 5 or 6 or something, when he was just like, ‘I want to run, OK!’ because he saw Devin.”
“Even being the younger brother, he always went out of his way to make sure I was alright,” Devin said. “That’s the type person he is.”
Jordan chuckled when admitting he did have some idea how he became competitive.
“I’d watch what my brother did and I would want to do everything that he did but a little better,” he said. “I always had that chip on my shoulder, that motivation to be the best of myself, always, so like if he scored 25 touchdowns one year in peewee, then I want to score 26, at least.”
Growing up in New Jersey, family members would help transport the Fuller kids to see their mom’s shows when they were within reasonable driving distance. They’d watch her on stage with people they knew as her friends, and sometimes they’d even be on the receiving end of celebratory phone calls.
“I was meeting Luther Vandross at [age] 2 and having a conversation with Mariah Carey on the phone,” Devin explained. “She would sing happy birthday to us.”
Goosebumps overcame Mizelle as she recalled some of her favorite memories.
“With Luther, they would go out and listen to the comedian that came on before him and then Jordan knew every line,” Mizelle said before she burst into contagious laughter. “He would recite everything and I would say, ‘Wait a minute, how did you get all that?!'”
Sometimes being on the road meant Mizelle would miss something, including some of the kids’ sporting events — which included football, baseball, track and basketball.
But she was proud to set an example her kids have clearly followed: Work hard and go for your dreams. She’s also convinced that the happy vibrations they felt in her womb during her shows helped shape the people they’ve become.
“My kids benefited from me staying the course and doing what I needed to do and making a living,” she said. “For them, with them, everything, so I think that their work ethic and stuff like that, I’m thinking that they benefited from that.”
“She raised three African-American kids who grew up to have a good head on their shoulders,” Devin said. “So she did a good job with my dad.”
Sunday’s game against the Bucs will provide a barometer of where the Rams stand in their pursuit of a run to Super Bowl LVI, which will be played at SoFi Stadium.
Mizelle, who still lives on the East Coast with the boys’ younger sister, Jasmine, will be watching. She prides herself as a football mom and knows Brady likely will be seeking revenge on her son.
“I know that Tom is going to be like, ‘Mmmm hmmm!'” Mizelle said amid laughter.
Jordan admits he inherited some of his mom’s musical gifts, but will only sing when he’s alone or among his closest family and friends.
However, when it comes to playing football, he feels, like mom, right at home playing on the biggest stage.