Kennedy Bright and Regan Smith
Although planned for Las Vegas, the 2020 NFL Draft was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It may have been an unusual event, but regardless of the location, emotions and accomplishments were on full display as many athletes finally reached their lifelong goal of making it into the NFL. One big takeaway from the draft was that many of those drafted are playing for more than just themselves.
Courageous, generous, protector, eager and resilient. These are a few words one would use to describe Austin Jackson of the University of Southern California (USC). He’s the kind of guy that works hard on and off the field. Jackson is more than an athlete. In fact, he’s a hero in his little sister’s eyes.
At birth, Autumn, Jackson’s sister, was diagnosed with Diamond-Blackfan anemia. According to USA Today, Diamond-Blackfan anemia is a rare inherited disorder that prevents bone marrow from producing red blood cells. Autumn was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant that would help preserve her life. But who could help her?
Prior to being drafted in the NFL, Jackson put a brief pause on his football career to rescue Autumn. There was only a 25% chance that Jackson would be a match for the transplant, yet he was. While away from the field, Jackson donated his bone marrow to revive Autumn’s life.
This year’s NFL draft was one for books. Jackson was welcomed into the Miami Dolphins’ NFL family on April 24 from the comfort of his home.
“Beyond blessed that the Miami Dolphins took this bet on me,” Jackson said on Instagram. “I’m excited to get to work and prove them right.”
There were more than tears of joy for fellow prospect Henry Hugs III when he was drafted. Since high school, Ruggs has been playing for more than himself, fame, or his family—he’s been playing for his best friend.
On March 3, 2016, Ruggs and his best friend, Roderic Scott, planned to drive to a state basketball tournament until the Ruggs fell ill the night before. Scott caught a ride with another group and tragically died in a car crash. Ruggs held on to the guilt of not driving that day.
“I lost myself,” Ruggs said in an interview with ESPN. “ I felt like I was supposed to be there.”
Scott always told Ruggs that he could play for Alabama and had the chance to make it to the NFL. He was right: Ruggs went to Alabama, playing for them both and carrying on his best friend’s legacy. He took on the motto “3’s up,” representing Scott’s favorite number. Every time he enters the field and scores a touchdown, it’s “3’s up.”
Ruggs was able to complete that legacy when he received the call that he was going to the Las Vegas Raiders.
“It was tears of joy,” Ruggs said to 247 sports. “I’ve been working for this forever. My family has been anxious for this moment, and getting that call, it’s just a joyful experience.”
From growing up homeless, moving state to state, living in basements, using the restroom outside and seeing dead bodies to becoming a first-round NFL draft pick is more than a cause for celebration for Javon Kinlaw of the University of South Carolina.
“We went without electricity, no water things like that,” Kinlaw said, reflecting on growing up homeless. “We had to use the neighbor’s holes to fill up totes of water, light the gas stove with a match, get a tall pot and boil the water, add some cold water and take it upstairs to shower.”
Those are some of the things that Kinlaw still to this day isn’t comfortable talking about, and they leave him with nightmares. But one thing he can take away from it all is what it has taught him today.
“You just can’t ever give up on yourself because there’s going to be times where you aren’t going to see the light or understand where you’re at in your life,” Kinlaw said at the NFL combine. “Whatever you’re doing, you just have to finish it seeing it all the way through because you never know what’s at the end of the tunnel waiting for you.”
Kinlaw saw it all the way through for himself and he now a member of the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.