There’s a Spider in Wakanda

January 3, 2023

ALUMNI

After playing tailback for the Richmond Spiders for five seasons in the late ’90s, all Jasper Pendergrass Jr. wanted to do was play in the NFL. But the draft came and went, and he didn’t get picked.

“All I could think was, ‘Oh, my god, what do I do now,’” Pendergrass said.

A few weeks later, the phone rang. It was another former football player for the Spiders, with an offer that changed his life.

“A friend of his was filming a movie in Baltimore, and they needed football players,” Pendergrass said. “That's how I got in. That was my first movie.”

Ever since filming that movie, The Replacements, the 1998 grad has pursued every job he can in the film industry. He’s portrayed football players or performed stunts in multiple movies and television shows, including The Wire, The Longest Yard, and Sons of Anarchy. His most recent performance is in the Black Panther franchise performing stunts as a citizen of Wakanda.

“It’s a lot of fight choreography,” Pendergrass said. “I’m in the big fight sequences, doing brawl fighting. Being in the Black Panther movies, just the experience in itself, it’s like being part of history.”

His physique has paid off, he said, because he gets to do some of the lower-impact stunts.

“As a big stunt guy, I luckily don't have to do all that stuff that the little guys do,” he said. “Like in a bar fight, if someone is thrown over the bar, it's going to be the little guys. I'll be the one that's throwing you, not getting thrown.”

But he’s most in awe of the female stunt performers in the Black Panther franchise.

“We rehearsed for weeks before, all in the big warehouse, all our different tribes are fighting, learning the fight choreographies,” he said. “The women are just absolutely phenomenal. We often see men doing these stunts, but in Black Panther, it puts the females in the forefront to show that they do all this stuff, too.”

Though he didn’t get to live his dream of playing professional football, he said he wouldn’t change anything about how his life has turned out.

“I thought the NFL would be the absolute pinnacle of my life, but football has turned out to do so much more for me. I've done over a hundred football commercials. I've done eight football movies, and it’s done so much more for me than I ever thought that it would.”