IRVING, Texas – It took longer for
The former Georgia Southern safety couldn’t explain all the emotions enveloping him when he answered the phone call from a Texas number to hear owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ voice on the other end. His dream became a reality in just a few seconds, and his mother, Marshell Wilcox, was by his side to watch it all unfold.
“It meant a lot, just to see her right there fighting and standing strong,” J.J. said. “It brought tears to my eyes. I cried. Y’all probably heard it on that draft call. It was touching. It was emotional.”
Wilcox told himself he wouldn’t shed a tear when or if he got the call. But he couldn’t prepare himself for the emotions.
A year ago, he didn’t think he’d get drafted after playing on offense the first three years of his college career. When a terrific season at safety reeled in more scouts, he thought he might get picked up somewhere in free agency. Then his draft prospects started soaring after the Senior Bowl and the Combine.
All the while, Wilcox’s mother was travelling back and forth from the doctor’s office for treatment.
Marshell, 49, continues to fight her battle with lupus and the lung problems associated with it. Wilcox said the disease began affecting his mother’s lungs more seriously three or four years ago. He’s always wanted to get her better treatment, but hasn’t had the means to do so.
Wilcox is accustomed to the aches, pains and jolts of playing an entire football season, but he can’t fathom the pain that his mother has endured for years.
“She’s way tougher than I am,” Wilcox said. “She’s a strong young lady. I’m just blessed to have her in my life.”
Marshell, who lives where J.J. grew up in Cairo, Ga., was strong enough to head home from the doctor to watch her son get drafted. Wilcox said nothing was going to hold his mom back from watching her son live out his dream.
A selection in the third round, and the multi-million dollar contract that will ensue, should allow him to help his mother tremendously. Wilcox’s focus on the field is fighting for a starting spot at safety, as one of the most inexperienced defensive players on the roster. His focus off the field is on fighting to get his mother the best treatment she deserves.
“She’s comfortable and she doesn’t have to worry about me any more,” Wilcox said. “So that’s my plan when I’m here, help her and get her health back up to par. She’s a strong young lady, and she’s the reason I’m here now and push the way I do and fight.”
It didn’t take long for Wilcox to see the enormous jump from the Southern Conference to the NFL, participating in the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp last weekend.
“The speed is two times faster than college,” he said. “Some players like I said in college, you could slack off one or two plays. Not here. Not in this game. The speed, the intensity and the atmosphere of this whole NFL is different.”
But picking up and adapting is nothing new for Wilcox, who switched from receiver to running back and, finally, to safety.
That was a process that took some convincing.
“One day my coaching staff came to me, my head coach, Jeff Monken, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, I need the leadership in the secondary,” Wilcox said. “I need somebody that’s going to be physical, aggressive and a leader back there. He said I fit that description the best. He gave it to me and I ran with it from there.
“I was kind of hesitant at first. I talked to my parents, and my parents told me just be the best team player you can be. That’s my attack and that’s what I hope to bring here to the Cowboys, be a good team player and hopefully bring a Super Bowl here.”
Despite his history on the offensive side, Wilcox has never been bashful about laying out his opponents. He loves the physical nature of the safety position, and his new secondary coach would agree.
“A lot of times when you see offensive guys make the jump, it takes them a little while to figure that part out,” said Jerome Henderson. “That came natural for him. When you watch him play, you’re like, ‘Oh God, he’s going to kill somebody.’”
Any initial reservations switching over to defense are now gone. Wilcox said all the ball skills, footwork and route recognition he’s gained over the years from playing on both sides of the ball should be able to help him moving forward.
Wilcox admitted when he was watching the draft he looked at his fits with every team as each pick and each round passed. He quickly found out after he was drafted that both safety spots are potentially up for grabs in Dallas.
He admits he plays more off instincts right now, considering his lack of experience at the position, but that doesn’t mean he feels incapable of starting immediately.
In fact, he thinks he’ll be ready to compete for a starting spot in Week 1.
“No doubt about it,” Wilcox said. “With this coaching staff, anything is possible.”
The novice safety from Georgia Southern has already surpassed many expectations by getting drafted in the third round. He said getting drafted was a nice Mother’s Day gift, but he’s still got a lot left to do, both for her and for his NFL future.
“The journey just begins,” Wilcox said. “It doesn’t end here. That’s the main thing, and that’s how I’m going to attack it.”