His 22nd birthday was approaching a few days ago, and Jim and Mary Justice asked their son, J.J., what he would like to have to celebrate.


 

His 22nd birthday was approaching a few days ago, and Jim and Mary Justice asked their son, J.J., what he would like to have to celebrate.

“I don’t really care,” he told them, “as long as I make a team.”

One day before his birthday, J.J. took the first step toward realizing that wish. The former University of Maryland defensive back and 2004 Norwich Free Academy graduate was invited to rookie camp Monday with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

“I’m on my way to the gym and I get a call,” he said. “I answer it and the guy from the Giants was like, ‘Hey, I was wondering if you signed with anybody yet,’ and I said no. He’s like, ‘We want to bring you into camp on May 8. Are you interested?’ And I said of course.”

The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Justice started all 13 games for the Terrapins at free safety last season and finished fourth on the team in tackles (76). In his final game, a 21-14 loss to Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl, he recorded a career-high and game-high 13 tackles.

He also had two interceptions this season to finish with four for his career. He played in all 48 of Maryland’s games over his four-year career.

The Giants had been interested in Justice since Maryland held its annual Pro Timing Day in March, where more than 30 representatives from NFL teams eyed a number of Terrapins eligible to play at the next level. Peter Giunta, New York’s defensive backs coach who was running the drills for the DBs, happens to be good friends with Maryland’s secondary coach, Kevin Lampa.

“(Giunta) came up to him after — it was a 4 1/2-hour ordeal with the sprints and jumps — and said they were interested in him,” Jim Justice said, “and they wanted to draft him if they could.”

And it wasn’t just the Giants — Miami, Washington and Indianapolis also expressed interest in recent weeks. But when the draft came around, J.J.’s name was not among the 252 selected last weekend.

“He was a high-priority free agent, but a lot of teams said, ‘We’d like to draft you, we want to draft you,’ ” Jim said. “But, there’s a lot of them that said they would definitely take him as a free agent.

“So after sitting there for six hours watching the draft, he didn’t get picked (but) within an hour (after the end), his agent called and said he had like six teams that wanted to sign him.”

But in the end, it was the Giants who showed the most interest, and having a chance to play close to home also was appealing.

“My agent (Jason Medlock of Dallas Sports Agency) asked me, he said, ‘Right now we’re looking at trying to get you with Giants and not a backup playing with Miami,’ ” J.J. Justice said. “And I was like, I’d definitely like to play with the Giants if I could.”

He said the rookie camp will probably feature one-on-one drills, or skeleton formations to see which players can pick them up the quickest.

“I was in an All-Star game in Texas, and I think it’s going to be a lot like that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be too much learning. But they want to see your raw ability, they want to see if you can understand concepts and stuff like that.”

Justice said he wasn’t a Giants fan before. Chances are, he is now.

Reach Brian Girasoli at bgirasoli@norwichbulletin.com