IRVING, Texas – Football must feel easy after the week that J.J. Wilcox has been through.
Wilcox returned to the practice field Wednesday after an emotional whirlwind of a week. The rookie safety made the play of his very young career on Aug. 9 when he nabbed a redzone interception against Oakland. Two days later, Wilcox departed for his home in Cairo, Ga., where his mother passed away last week after a long battle with lupus.
"It's tough – it's tough. When you get accustomed to somebody, for 33 years for my dad and 22 years with me, and they're all of a sudden gone, it's tough," Wilcox said. "It still affects me to this day – I felt it a little bit at practice. But I'm going to be strong, be blessed and keep pushing."
Wilcox left behind his father, James Sr., and his younger sister, Iesha, to return to the practice field. He said it was hard to leave his family behind, but he understood his professional obligation to be at practice.
"I know this is my job and this is my obligation," he said. "It's tough leaving my family back home, but it's something I have to do to support my family back home and my family and friends."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave Wilcox as much time as he needed to deal with his loss. The rookie missed a total of 10 days before returning to the field Wednesday – a return he said he welcomed.
"I don't think it was a distraction, it's more like a relief," he said. "This is something I love and something I love to do, and the way they supported me, I just wanted to go out there and tell them I appreciate it."
Wilcox didn't share the fact that his mother, Marshell, was sick with many of his teammates, and he didn't tell anyone he was leaving camp in Oxnard, Calif., to tend to her in her last few days. But that didn't stop the outpouring of support that followed him home.
"It helped out a lot – the text messages, the flowers, the coaches calling and checking up on me, all the PR people – it was great," he said. "It makes a difference when you've got somebody that's supporting you."
Garrett said the support system in place for a player – especially a new, young player – is one of the benefits of a team atmosphere.
"You have all of these people who care about you a great deal," he said. "Some guys you consider your friends, some guys are more acquaintances. But there are bonds that develop, and that's certainly something I hope he felt – the comfort and support of his teammates."
Now, Wilcox begins the process of easing back into the Cowboys' defense. He led the team in tackles in addition to his interception during his last game, just prior to returning home. But Garrett said there might be some snags – and understandably so – in his re-acclimation.
"It seemed like he had a good practice, it seemed like he was in a good frame of mind," Garrett said. "But I imagine with a situation like that you will have lapses – your mind will wander to really important places. It's good to have him back, and hopefully the support systems are in place for him here."
Wilcox said it's his job to get back to work, and to support his father and sister. He repeated the same line, "keep pushing," several times – a fitting mantra for both on and off the field.
"It's part of life – you have ups and downs, and that was part of my downs," he said. "I'm looking for the good now."