October 25, 2011
Much like every other athlete in the world, there's a lot you didn't know about former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes). Sports Illustrated's L. Jon Wertheim went to Mobile, Ala., to talk to Russell and got his side of being a huge NFL draft bust. Here are some of the tidbits he turned up.
Russell suffered from sleep apnea.
"In the NFL, my first year, I had to be there at 6:30 before practice and be on the treadmill for an hour. Then meetings come, I sit down, eat my fruit. We watch film, and maybe I got tired. Coach Flip [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] pulled me aside and said, 'What are you doing for night life?' I said, 'Coach, I'm just chilling.' He said, 'I need to get you checked out.' I did the sleep test, and they said I had apnea."
From former life coach John Lucas:
"JaMarcus is a good kid, I'm telling you, who just needs to find his motivation. But we still talk. Have him tell you about his sleep apnea. A lot [of his issues] come from that. And no one knows it."
Sleep apnea can indeed throw a giant monkey wrench into someone's life. Essentially, it means that a sufferer stops breathing when they sleep, up to dozens of times per night, making it impossible to get a good night's sleep. They never feel rested, and all day long, every day, all they feel like doing is sleeping.
I'd imagine that would make it difficult to excel as a quarterback, which requires constant learning, snap decision-making and near-instant reflexes.
[Related: Sad end to $42 million NFL player's season]
Russell says there were more things working against him, including a staff and roster that gave him no support, the lack of a quarterback mentor, and the deaths of 11 friends or family members while he was in Oakland.
None of that explains everything, though. I don't want to call them excuses, and I'm not unsympathetic, but I don't believe for a second that Russell couldn't have been better than what he was. If there had been a better work ethic and a better mindset, he certainly would've at least risen to a level above abysmal. He wasn't the worst of all time, but he was close.
Other highlights of the article include Russell's incredible spirit of giving in his hometown of Mobile, and his plans to get back into the NFL. He's still only 26 years old, and he just built a 50-yard practice facility on his property. He doesn't want to play in the UFL or CFL, but says he's committed to getting back.
If that's true, he'll get another shot. Guys with his physical skills always get another shot, as long as there's some hope remaining that they can get the rest of their life together. We'll find out for sure next summer.
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