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 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. 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.
“The sickness came. The sickness went,” she said. “Now, he’s here.”
The 6-foot-5 defensive tackle is here, learning all about position coach Clint Hurtt, head coach Pete Carroll, his new teammates and a new city. 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 at age 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.
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.
When Jones woke up Saturday morning, his legs didn’t work.
For the next month, he had searing pain in his legs and back. He lost 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.
After almost two months of tests and pain, he was diagnosed as having Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “an uncommon form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg.”
CRPS doesn’t afflict many people, and those it does are usually far older than Jones. The Mayo Clinic says “complex regional pain syndrome typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack.”
Jones hadn’t had any of those.
“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.”
Treatment and recovery went on and on, and continues. Jones will take medication weekly for the rest of his life to keep CRPS from debilitating him again.
“It was just all the effects that it had on me afterwards,” 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.”
“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.”
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 would 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.
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.