After just two days around the Seahawks, Tammy Jones is all in.
“I love the Seahawks family already. I feel like I’m leaving him in good hands,” the mother of remarkable third-round draft choice Nazair Jones said Saturday.
She was standing off the edge of the team’s practice field, here from her North Carolina home for Seattle’s first two practices of rookie minicamp. Mom was wearing a neon-green, Seahawks shirt beneath a matching, low-slung necklace on Mother’s Day eve.
Her smile was as bright as the lakeside sun. No wonder: She has more reason to be proud – and oh, so appreciative – than most NFL moms.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” she said of her son’s Seahawks career.
“The only thing that I tell people is, quitting wasn’t an option.
“The sickness came. The sickness went. Now, he’s here.”
He’s here, learning all about his fiery, new position coach, Clint Hurtt. The 6-foot-5 defensive tackle is getting to know his unique, all-in head coach, Pete Carroll. New teammates. A new city. Heck, his new life.
Yet this learning curve is nothing.
Jones isn’t living in a Ronald McDonald House for long-term physical recovery. He isn’t weeping and fearing he’d never be able to run, or even walk, again.
“I had to re-learn how to walk,” he said.
Jones did that 5½ years ago, when a rare disease left him frightened he may be permanently paralyzed.
He was 16.
“I’m really just blessed man, to go through everything I’ve gone through, just to still be drafted into the NFL,” he said. “I really can’t ask for anything more than that.
“Yeah, it definitely hit me. Especially being out here at practice and especially being out here in Seattle away from my family and everything, it’s definitely hit me. But I’m just thankful for the opportunity. And I’m going to just keep working at it and trying to help the team any way I can.”
Jones was a junior playing football at Roanoke Rapids High School in November 2011, on his way to a college scholarship. His team had lost in the North Carolina state playoffs on a Friday night. Jones fell asleep into a Saturday morning.
When he woke up, his legs didn’t work.
For the next month, he had searing pain in his legs and back. He lost about 50 pounds. In December his mother, frantically trying to figure out the source of her son’s debilitating pain, took him to University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill. He was admitted as an impatient on his 16th birthday.
Then, more weeks of tests. And pain. No one – especially not a previously strong, energetic teen athlete playing three sports -- is supposed to be paralyzed for weeks for no known reason.
“It was a long road,” he says now. “It took almost two months for me to even get a diagnosis.”
It eventually was Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
The Mayo Clinic defines CRPS as “an uncommon form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg.” The few the nervous-system disorder afflicts are usually far older than Jones was. The clinic says “complex regional pain syndrome typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack.”
Jones hadn’t had any of those. He was 16.
“Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is so different, and it is so uncommon, that some of my doctors had never heard of it,” he said. “Had never diagnosed anyone with it.”
The diagnosis was just the first part. The treatment and recovery went on and on. And still goes on. Jones will take medication weekly for the remainder of his life, to keep CRPS from debilitating him again.
“It was just all the effects that it had on me afterward,” he said. “So, I was still a little stiff. I had a little gimpy walk. I was just fighting that, trying to get back to my normal self, because I was out of commission. I had to relearn how to walk. Just trying to get back into the groove of things.
“It took me a long time to do that, but it wasn’t until my redshirt-freshman year at North Carolina where I felt back to 100 percent. I played my senior season (of high school) in football, basketball and track, still recovering -- but just trying my best.”
After starring at North Carolina a couple campus blocks from the hospital in Chapel Hill that finally found out what was wrong with him, Jones is beginning his development as the Seahawks’ three-technique tackle, off the outside shoulder of the opposing guard. Seattle drafted him to be the hole-plugging, blocker-devouring defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin has been the last two seasons.
Rubin is now 30. He has two years and $5 million left on his contract, and Seattle can save $3.8 million against its 2018 salary cap if it released him next year at age 31. That possibility that will increase as Jones develops.
For now, Jones and top draft pick Malik McDowell are forming a 6-5 and 6-6 wall of defensive tackles. That’s a lot of Seahawks for quarterbacks to throw over. And on the field in his new, white No. 93 practice jersey Jones looks taller than 6-5.
He remains a towering figure back home in North Carolina, too.
It’s another, large part of his appreciation for where’s he’s from -- and all that he’s overcome.
“I started mentoring last March,” Jones said. “Basically what I do, I pair collegiate athletes with underprivileged youth in North Carolina. Basically, we mentor them and just try to get those guys on the right path.
“What I do, I take different groups of athletes from all the surrounding schools and we’ll go into middle schools or high schools and have different little seminars with the guys. Just kind of tell them what it takes to be a Division-I athlete, what it takes to be a college athlete in general. And what it takes to succeed in the classroom, as well.”
His mentor, Mac Booker, passed away last year. Jones’ mentoring is a pay-it-forward gesture in Booker’s memory.
“I knew how big of an impact he had on my life, so basically I just wanted to pass on the impact he had on me to someone who looks up to me,” Jones, 22, said. “I definitely wanted to pass that on so other kids in the area, all the kids in general, try to set themselves up for a bright future.”
Maybe even one as bright as his.
As this weekend is showing, and Mom is seeing first-hand, Jones is absolutely off and running in the NFL.
For a man once fearing whether he’d be able to take another step, this one is no small feat.