Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs shares incredible story of overcoming adversity

Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs shares incredible story of overcoming adversity

On Thursday night, 32 men had their dreams of playing in the NFL realized when commissioner Roger Goodell called their names during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

It's a life-changing moment for every player who walks on that stage and shakes Goodell's hand. The culmination of years of hard work, dedication and perseverance.

For new Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, it was even more than that.

Oakland selected Jacobs, the do-it-all Alabama back, with the No. 24 overall pick. For Jacobs, it was a sign that what his father always told him -- that everything will work out if you do things the right way and persevere --  was true.

Jacobs, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla., detailed his tough childhood in an article on The Players' Tribune posted Thursday, just before the draft.

When Jacobs was in fourth grade, his parents split up, and he went to live with his father. While his father's new apartment was being made ready, they slept on relatives' couches and, eventually, his father's Suburban. Jacobs would shower after football practice, and his father would drive around looking for a spot to park the car for the night, always sleeping with a gun on his chest to protect his son.

They eventually moved into the apartment, but the good times didn't last for Jacobs and his family.

"We slept in that Suburban every night for maybe two weeks until the apartment was finally ready," Jacobs writes. "We moved in, and a couple of months later, my dad won custody of my three brothers and my sister, and they moved in with us, too.

"Then, my dad lost his job."

For the next two years, Jacobs and his father and siblings went from motel to motel, living out of their backpacks and eating mainly white rice and ramen noodles. When money was really tight, Jacobs' father wouldn't eat.

"I didn’t really understand it all at the time — the way we were living, the sacrifices my dad was making … none of it. I just never looked at our life as a struggle," Jacobs wrote. "To me, it was just life. It was all I knew."

Despite his frustration and family's desperation, Jacobs' father never turned to drug dealing, which would have been the easy way to make money. He wanted to do right by his kids.

"He said he would never do it, for two reasons," Jacobs wrote. "One, it was too risky. If he got arrested or sent to jail, there would be nobody to take care of us kids, and he might lose us. And that was out of the question.

"And two … he said that the easy way out usually isn’t the right way. He said it’s hard work and perseverance that gets rewarded, not shortcuts."

[RELATED: Jacobs reveals he picked draft-night shoes with Raiders in mind]

That's what Jacobs did. He worked hard and ran even harder. For his dad and his siblings.

But, most importantly, because he loves the game of football.

After those two years, Jacobs' father landed a steady job and was able to get a house. Money still was tight, but they no longer were moving from motel to motel.

Jacobs was a star on the gridiron in high school, putting up absurd numbers. So absurd, in fact, that the local newspaper refused to print them because they believed his coach was making them up.

During his senior season, Jacobs still had zero scholarship offers and zero stars on the recruiting websites. Even after he put up 455 yards and six touchdowns on just 22 carries in a game covered by the local paper, he still received no interest.

Then, a man named G. Smith from Texas called Jacobs' father asking to help get his son recruiting interest. He had come across Jacobs' highlight-reel and wanted to help. He had Jacobs create a Twitter account to post his highlights, and took care of the rest.

The offers started coming in, but once Nick Saban and Alabama came knocking, it was a wrap.

"Everybody knows Alabama for being a football factory," Jacobs wrote. "For putting dudes in the NFL left and right. But I didn’t look at it that way. I saw it as an opportunity to play against the most elite competition in college football, and to get a quality education at the same time.

"Where I’m from, kids don’t get either of those opportunities. So that was all I was focused on. Getting to the NFL was the absolute furthest thing from my mind."

But during his final season at Alabama, Jacobs became the star of the Crimson Tide's crowded backfield. He rushed for 83 yards and two scores while having the flu during the SEC Championship Game. 

During the next game -- the Capital One Orange Bowl against Oklahoma -- Jacobs went wild, running for 98 yards on 15 carries and catching four balls for 60 yards and two scores.

The NFL was sure to come calling, and on Thursday night, Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden did.

[RELATED: Grades for Raiders' three first-round picks]

Jacobs' running style -- hard and powerful -- makes him an attractive prospect, but it's his attitude that should excite the Raiders and their fans.

"I run for my pops, the man who sacrificed so much and worked so hard to provide for me and educate me," Jacobs wrote. "I run for my three-year-old son, Braxton, so he can have a father he’s proud of, like I’m proud of mine. I run for my sister and my three brothers. I run for my teammates and my coaches. I run for everybody who has ever supported me, anyone who’s ever doubted me, and for anyone out there living on white rice and ramen noodles. I run for anyone who’s in a tough situation and feels like it’s never going to end — that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

"I run to show them that there is."

With Marshawn Lynch reportedly hanging up his cleats for a second time, Jacobs is expected to become the featured back in Oakland.

Expect him to run hard and work harder.

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Darren Waller used to hate football. With a passion.

That fact contrasts with the joy exuded while playing now as an elite NFL tight end. He loved every minute of a breakout Raiders season where he had 90 catches for 1,145 yards, but he's most proud of being consistent and, for the first time in forever, being someone you can count on.

Waller has been clean and sober more than two years now. That change has brought happiness back to his life and the game he once despised.

“I hated football from high school up until I got suspended [in 2017],” Waller said. “The sport was just a means to impress people and seem cool and cover up all these voids. I thought that, if I was successful, I could be happy. It wasn’t doing the trick, so there was a huge void in me I thought I could fill with drugs and alcohol.

“It took me having a near-death experience to question the things I was doing in my life. I stepped away from the game for a bit. If it was God’s plan for me to come back to the game, it’s now clear that it was. I came back with a new perspective and started enjoying it. I was open to coaches and have relationships with these people.”

The near-death experience came from a bad batch of pills two months after his yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy while with the Baltimore Ravens, when he sat in his car fighting to stay awake while thinking he might not make it out alive. Waller went to rehab shortly after that, a life choice he considers the foundation of all the good that has come since.

Waller’s personal life improved quickly, but his career didn’t really take off until the Raiders signed him off the Ravens practice squad late in 2018 and he started working with tight ends coach Frank Smith.

Smith challenged Waller to be great, a goal achieved in a shockingly short span. Waller’s now considered among the NFL’s elite tight ends and has become a role model for so many struggling with addiction by telling his story to anyone who will listen.

Waller believes that Smith unlocked true potential by caring about the person over the player, helping him in recovery and on the football field. That’s why Waller honored Smith at this year’s Coaching Corps’ Game Changer Awards, where athletes from different Bay Area professional sports teams honor coaches special in their lives.

Waller honored Smith at a Thursday ceremony in San Francisco, which will be broadcast Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I never had a relationship with a coach like I do with Frank,” Waller said. “I honestly text him more than I text my friends. We laugh every day at practice, but I seriously respect him as a teacher and a coach and an authority figure you can talk to as a friend. Nothing’s off limits. We can be real and honest with each other about everything. That’s so important to me, having him in my life.”

Smith values his relationship with Waller, which has grown over their two years working together.

“He’s an extremely intelligent person who is athletic,” Smith said. “But, if you don’t love football and give it everything you’ve got, you won’t progress. He’d be the first to tell you he wouldn’t sacrifice for the game. We weren’t seeing the best version of him. We were seeing a clouded version of himself blurred by his substance abuse. Then football was taken away, and he learned what he wanted to do.

"Now we’re seeing the full commitment, the full potential be realized.”

Smith admits that coaching Waller is different. His commitment to recovery mandates more involvement in Waller’s personal life, making sure his support system is in place. Smith took on that responsibility without hesitation, balancing his personal and professional duties while remaining an authority figure. He recognized Waller as a special case right away, that he was working with someone who could be great.

“He was humble. He was hungry to learn and hungry to work,” Smith said. “With his story, you can see every day how he cherishes life and embraces every obstacle. He never makes an excuse for anything, even with things that somebody else does. He’s the type of person who really has an effect on you, especially if you let him show you his transformative process.”

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

Waller let Smith in right away. He’s an open book about his struggles with drugs and alcohol and could tell that his position coach would help him in all aspects and stoke his passion for the game he thought he’d lost forever.

“Frank helped so much with my transition to the Raiders,” Waller said. “He has a friend that was in recovery like I am, who worked the 12-step program and went to rehab. He was able to understand me by understanding his friend. We learned a lot from each other, and he was able to welcome me in without putting too much pressure on me. But he wasn’t allowing me to be someone just happy to be there. He had me set goals, something I never did before that.

"He really opened my eyes to the fact that I could be great. I never really thought I could be great. I was too worried about all the pressure and the negative things. I never saw the game in a positive light. He helped me see that football can be so much fun if you’re not worried about things outside of what you can control.”

“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

For 14 seasons, the Raiders and Philip Rivers have been rivals. Rivers' first NFL start fittingly came against the Raiders in 2006, his third professional season. 

That rivalry might be done, though. The Athletic's Jay Glazer said Monday on FS1's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that the Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on" from Rivers. 

Rivers, 38, will become a free agent this upcoming offseason. The 16-year veteran has spent his entire career for the Chargers, but it's unknown if he will continue playing in 2020. He already has moved his large family to Florida this offseason. 

The gunslinger was the No. 4 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He has an 18-9 career record against the Raiders with 47 touchdown passes -- his most against any opponent -- and 22 interceptions.

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

If the Chargers do move on from Rivers, they could try to grab a QB early in the 2020 draft. The Bolts own the No. 6 pick, and our own Josh Schrock has them taking Oregon's Justin Herbert in the first round. 

As the Raiders move to Las Vegas, it could be the end of an era with their Philip Rivers rivalry.