NAPA – Maurice Jones-Drew chose to wear No. 32 on his back for one reason when he played for the Jaguars.
It’s how many teams passed on him during round one of the 2006 draft. He’ll be wearing No. 21 for the Raiders, but his mindset might not be much different.
“I know what I have left, and I know the work that I put in this off-season to be able to play at a certain level. There’s nothing you can do to please everyone. … People will be humbled sooner or later. If not by me, it will be by someone else.”
He’s too short. He’s too old to be a featured back in the NFL. Those are just two statements from Jones-Drew’s critics, to which he responds:
While he cracked a grin, Jones-Drew also showed a glimpse of anger — maybe even disgust. He’s worked hard to return from an injury that many football players don’t come back from.
Jones-Drew was leading the league in rushing during the 2012 season, before he ironically broke his foot in a game against the Raiders.
It was a devastating blow to the Jaguars, and the veteran running back. He had to learn to do things all over again. The injury was so severe, he even needed to learn how to walk again.
He prolonged surgery, hoping he could play another game that season.
Jones-Drew didn’t even grimace when discussing the rehab, and appears happy that it’s behind him. He said:
“Coming off the foot surgery, I didn’t train, I couldn’t work out at all. I tried to pick up swimming when I could, but that only does so much. Running is what you want to get back to doing. I threw up the first two times (of running hills). … Even when we had OTA’s, (my training coach and I) still run the hills on Saturdays.”
It took nearly two months to get the little muscles in his hips into proper form, and another couple weeks before he could get the hitch out of his step.
The arduous rehab is symbolic of how his career has gone. It’s been an uphill battle to prove everyone wrong. Jones-Drew, though, considers himself more Zen-like now.
Much less angry than he used to be.
His laid-back demeanor, highlighted by his soft tone and sense of humility when asked about personal achievements, still can’t shield the chip on his shoulder.
Nonetheless, Jones-Drew has other things to worry about:
“My motivation has nothing to do with what people have to say. Regardless, I led the league in rushing, and I come out, and people are saying I lost a step. … It was one of those things where it is what it is. My motivation everyday is when I wake up every morning and I see four kids that I have to feed. That’s my motivation.”
His voice elevated when he spoke of his doubters, which he’s had for his whole life. He did have fans too, though. One of his longtime fans, is a former Raiders player he grew rooting for:
“I remember one time Napoleon Kaufman came to our church, and that was a big deal to me. … He remembered it, too — it was crazy. He was like ‘I remember meeting you, I kept up with you and your career, you did a great job.’ Obviously now I’ll get to see him a lot.”
Jones-Drew believes that Kaufman heard about his talent through friends from his Antioch church, which he talked about in a somber tone.
Antioch has been a dangerous city for years. The decline of what was supposed to be a nice suburb couldn’t be more clear than a drive heading north on A Street, towards the city’s downtown area.
Houses have bars on windows, some are simply boarded up. There’s a number of neighborhoods where residences are more like pseudo-prisons than homes. The crime rate is on par with other California cities like Richmond, with only five percent of American cities more dangerous.
A few other current Raiders come from the town. Travis “T.J.” Carrie and Taiwan Jones hail from “the Yoch,” and Jones-Drew has known them for much longer than other teammates.
He grew up with Jones’ older brother, and hung out with Carrie’s older brother Eric.
He’s been trying to get his kids in school, and situate all the other things that come with moving cross-country and working for only his second employer since leaving college.
But Jones-Drew said he wants to get back to the community he grew up in, and make a difference in a similar way Kaufman did in his younger days:
“It’s good to see kids making it out of there. It’s a tough place. You just don’t have a lot of help sometimes — a lot of people don’t really come out there.”
For now, though, Jones-Drew can only work on the upcoming season. One could have trouble believing he underwent surgery in January, since his early August training camp performances have been nothing short of impressive.
He may not say it, but his elevated tone when broaching the topic of football, silencing doubters and putting on a show, make it appear he’s still a begrudged youngster with a fire burning.
He’s itching to prove he’s ready to lead the league in rushing, yet again, and show the guy who wears No. 21, is the same guy who scored 16 touchdowns in 2009 while wearing No. 32.
Taunting all the teams who passed on him in the first round.