Bears’ Jaleel Scrog­gins’ re­mark­able come­back

For Bears’ Jaleel Scrog­gins, 2019 was an event­ful year

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONAS POPE IV [email protected]­ald­sun.com

Life is good for Jaleel Scrog­gins.

In Septem­ber he and his girl­friend, Kyanna Bat­tad, had their first child, a daugh­ter named Lena. That would be the high­light of the year for Scrog­gins, but just the be­gin­ning of his good for­tune.

Two months later Scrog­gins, a ju­nior safety for the Shaw Univer­sity Bears, was voted All-CIAA First-Team af­ter fin­ish­ing with 49 tack­les, three in­ter­cep­tions and eight tack­les for loss.

Crazy to think that at the start of 2019 he was al­most taken away from Bat­tad and Lena. In the blink of an eye, Scrog­gins could have been gone and would have missed it all.

‘JUST TRY­ING TO STAY ALIVE’

The new year was barely three days old when Scrog­gins’ life changed. He and a cou­ple of friends were at his off-cam­pus apart­ment. Bat­tad was there as well. She was in the shower, with mu­sic play­ing, the tunes and wa­ter drown­ing out the noise from the rest of the house. She didn’t think much of it when she heard some com­mo­tion, as­sum­ing Scrog­gins and his room­mates were play­ing around.

Mo­ments later, Scrog­gins burst through the door, trail­ing blood.

Ac­cord­ing to Scrog­gins, there had been a knock at the door. When he tried to look through the key hole to see who was out­side a group of men burst through, at­tempt­ing to rob them. With his girl­friend and room­mates in the apart­ment, in­stincts took over.

“I said I was call­ing the cops,” Scrog­gins told the N&O in De­cem­ber. “They got timid and started run­ning out.”

If they would have con­tin­ued to run, it would have been a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. Scrog­gins and Bat­tad would have been shaken up, but at least it would have been over.

But they didn’t. Just be­fore ex­it­ing the apart­ment, one of the in­trud­ers stopped, turned around and lifted a gun. He fired once, hit­ting Scrog­gins in the chest. The 5-10 Scrog­gins dropped, hit­ting the ground quicker than any ball carrier he’s ever tack­led.

He got up and made his way to the bath­room, where Bat­tad was still un­aware of what had just hap­pened.

“When he opened the door there was blood all over him,”

Bat­tad told the N&O. “He was stum­bling ev­ery­where. When he made it to the front he fell, that’s when we were on the phone with the po­lice. They told us to hold his wound down, so I im­me­di­ately took off my towel and put it on him.”

The bul­let went right through Scrog­gins’ body, about an inch or two from his heart.

Bat­tad and the room­mates fol­lowed the in­struc­tions given to them by 911, hold­ing down the wound un­til help ar­rived.

To Bat­tad it seemed like it took for­ever. She re­mem­bers scream­ing over the phone, urg­ing au­thor­i­ties to get there in a hurry.

Ly­ing on the ground, with his girl­friend and friends hov­ered over him, one thought con­stantly went through Scrog­gins’ mind.

“I was just telling my­self to breathe,” Scrog­gins said. “I was just try­ing to stay alive.”

FIND­ING HIS MO­TI­VA­TION

It was 4 a.m. in Durham and An­gela Gilchrist, Jaleel’s mom, was sound asleep. Her phone rang, a night­mare for any par­ent that time of the night. On the other end of the line was one of her son’s friends, who told her Jaleel had been shot but didn’t pro­vide more de­tail.

Gilchrist got dressed and rushed straight to WakeMed.

“I thought it was just he got shot in the arm or some­thing like that,” Gilchrist said. “But when the doc­tor came out and told me how ex­ten­sive it was, that’s when re­al­ity set in.

“Ba­si­cally the doc­tor said he was blessed to be alive. Had that bul­let aimed a lit­tle more it would have hit a main artery or some­thing.”

Not long af­ter Gilchrist ar­rived, Shaw foot­ball coach Adrian Jones made his way to WakeMed and got a sim­i­lar re­port from the doc­tors. Jones ad­mit­ted it didn’t sound good. When he was fi­nally able to see Scrog­gins, his trep­i­da­tion only in­creased.

“From what I saw, to see some­thing lay­ing in the bed the way he was,” Jones said, his voice trail­ing off. “Pretty much the ma­chines were keep­ing him go­ing un­til he could breathe on his own. It’s a credit to God.”

Never be­fore had Jones needed to visit a player in the hospi­tal for life threat­en­ing in­juries. Foot­ball surg­eries, sure. But cling­ing to life af­ter be­ing shot, that was new ter­ri­tory for Jones, who wasn’t ready to face the re­al­ity that Scrog­gins might not pull through.

“The only thing I could think about was how am I go­ing to han­dle this if this kid doesn’t make it?” Jones re­called.

Scrog­gins was in surgery for seven hours. He was even­tu­ally moved to the In­ten­sive Care Unit around 10 a.m. on Jan. 4. When he woke up, he was con­fused. Fam­ily and friends were al­lowed to see him, and see­ing cer­tain faces only added to the mys­tery.

His grand­mother, who lives in Lum­ber­ton, was there. What re­ally threw him off was see­ing his brother, who was sta­tioned in Afghanista­n, stand­ing over his bed.

Scrog­gins had tubes run­ning in and out of his body and breath­ing was a strug­gle. He was in the hospi­tal for 11 days. When he was fi­nally able to go home he was bedrid­den for two months. Sleep­ing on his back (he couldn’t lay on his side or stom­ach) was a nui­sance be­cause that wasn’t how he was used to sleep­ing. He could barely walk, so most days he just watched tele­vi­sion, with Bat­tad by his side.

At one point, by his own ad­mis­sion, Scrog­gins be­came very de­pressed, feel­ing he had “noth­ing to look for­ward to.” Luck­ily, he had a strong sup­port sys­tem. Bat­tad never left his side, his mom was there and Jones was con­stantly check­ing in, among oth­ers.

His mind­set quickly changed one day when he and Bat­tad found out she was ex­pect­ing. Scrog­gins had al­most lost his life, now, still re­cov­er­ing from those in­juries, he found out he and Bat­tad were bring­ing an­other into the world.

While things had been hard on him since the shoot­ing, find­ing out he was go­ing to be a fa­ther, and he’d ac­tu­ally be around to par­ent his child, changed Scrog­gins’ out­look on every­thing. Slowly, he got back on his feet. He was able to walk a lit­tle faster, day by day, and the weight he gained while in­ac­tive might have ac­tu­ally served as a bless­ing in dis­guise. He wanted to put on some pounds any­way head­ing into his ju­nior sea­son. That seemed mi­nor at the time, but lit­tle did ev­ery­one know Scrog­gins was al­ready plot­ting a come­back.

RE­TURN­ING TO THE FIELD

When Scrog­gins was lit­tle, as young as 3, Gilchrist re­mem­bers him go­ing out in the yard with her brother and play­ing foot­ball. Even then, Scrog­gins didn’t shy away from con­tact.

He was a nat­u­ral safety even be­fore he knew what the word meant. As a sopho­more he started all 10 games for Shaw, col­lect­ing 53 tack­les, and was an All-CIAA honor­able men­tion se­lec­tion. He was bank­ing on hav­ing an even big­ger year as a ju­nior. Win­ter work­outs had gone well and spring ball was around the cor­ner. Then he got shot, de­rail­ing any chance of play­ing in 2019 … or so peo­ple thought.

He wasn’t fully healed, but Scrog­gins made an ap­pear­ance at sev­eral spring prac­tices, stand­ing on the side­line to sup­port his team­mates. The guys were happy to have him around and oc­ca­sion­ally got in his ear, telling him they would love to have him back. To them, it prob­a­bly seemed like the right thing to say, if only to boost morale. But to Scrog­gins those words meant some­thing. It got the wheels turn­ing in his head that maybe he could play.

Jones thought Scrog­gins might play foot­ball again, but he didn’t have any re­al­is­tic goals of him re­turn­ing in 2019. He ac­tu­ally wanted him to sit out, to re­cover men­tally as much as phys­i­cally.

Jones couldn’t get the im­age out of his mind of Scrog­gins in that hospi­tal bed, with all the tubes trav­el­ing in and out of his body. He would be happy if Scrog­gins could just re­turn to school full time. Foot­ball wasn’t a pri­or­ity. Scrog­gins had other ideas.

The minute he was cleared to do phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, Scrog­gins got to work. In June he was cleared to work­out with light weights. He gives a lot of credit to Shaw strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Wayne Hall for help­ing him shed the ex­tra weight he gained from Jan­uary to June, putting back on the mus­cle needed to per­form.

As he started re­gain­ing strength, hit­ting the foot­ball field in Au­gust wasn’t that far fetched for Scrog­gins, even if it con­cerned his loved ones.

“I was so afraid he was go­ing to mess some­thing up, but he was de­ter­mined to play, so I had to trust God,” Gilchrist said. “I’m a mother, I just don’t want him to get hurt.”

Bat­tad was equally un­easy about it, but she knew she wasn’t go­ing to stop him.

Jones felt the same. “He wasn’t go­ing to hear that,” Jones said. “I don’t think that mom, aunts, un­cles, no­body was go­ing to tell him that he couldn’t play foot­ball. I let him make his own de­ci­sion. When the doc­tors cleared him they said he was fine.”

Fine by nor­mal life stan­dards. Foot­ball fine is to­tally dif­fer­ent. Some­how, eight months af­ter be­ing shot, two months af­ter pick­ing up weights for the first time in the new year, Scrog­gins was at fall camp, prac­tic­ing with his team­mates.

Ob­vi­ously, Scrog­gins wasn’t in foot­ball shape when camp started. If Jones saw him strug­gling, he of­fered him an ex­tended break. He rarely ac­cepted. If he was go­ing to be back, he was go­ing to prac­tice as hard as ev­ery­one else.

“They were re­ally hard on me, ac­tu­ally,” Scrog­gins said about his re­turn to the field. “They were re­ally try­ing to get me in shape.”

‘I HAVE TO DO IT’

Af­ter every­thing that hap­pened to Jaleel Scrog­gins in 2019, it’s easy to un­der­stand why he’s of­ten a bit guarded.

Scrog­gins comes across as a re­spect­ful young man. He greets you with a firm hand­shake and keeps steady eye con­tact through­out the course of a con­ver­sa­tion. His eyes light up when talk­ing about Bat­tad and Lena.

He an­swers all the ques­tions about Jan. 3, 2019, but it’s not some­thing he thinks or talks about much. That con­cerned Jones.

“Not at all and that’s what both­ers me,” Jones said. “This guy got shot and never re­ally talked about it. The only thing he talks about is his daugh­ter and his girl­friend and how blessed he is to have those two in his cor­ner and he says he wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Jones even sug­gested Scrog­gins speak with a ther­a­pist, but doesn’t think Scrog­gins took him up on the offer. When he first re­turned to the team, Scrog­gins was a lot qui­eter. In the past he was one of the guys al­ways talk­ing, the team spark plug. When he re­turned, Jones ob­served Scrog­gins stay­ing to him­self more.

“I think in the back of his mind he’s al­ways think­ing about ‘I might not have been here.’ I think he’s got a lot go­ing on in his head,” Jones said. “I know at my age, if that hap­pened to me, that would be stuck in my head like a night­mare. He re­mem­bers ev­ery step that hap­pened that day.”

Scrog­gins knows some­one was ar­rested and charged with the crime, al­though he was never asked to tes­tify at a trial. He doesn’t know if they are in jail and isn’t in­ter­ested in find­ing out. Once he was healed and back to nor­mal he didn’t con­cern him­self with the case too much.

He wouldn’t say that he’s para­noid, at least not any­more. There was a time when if some­one walked too close to his car at night he would get a lit­tle un­easy. He in­sists it’s not con­stantly on his mind.

What’s on his mind is Lena and Bat­tad, fin­ish­ing his se­nior year strong in the class­room and help­ing Shaw make it to the CIAA cham­pi­onship game.

He’s a fam­ily man who can’t stay away from foot­ball. Re­cently some re­cruits were in town for a visit and Jones didn’t call Scrog­gins to be a host. When Scrog­gins found out he called Jones right away, ques­tion­ing why the coach didn’t pick him.

If he walked around think­ing about what might have been, it would con­sume too much of his day. It’s only hu­man na­ture that it does pop in his mind from time to time. The big­gest les­son learned: not to take life for granted.

“It just makes me look at stuff … some­times dur­ing foot­ball sea­son I re­al­ized I would take it easy,” Scrog­gins said. “Now I have to do this the best way I can. School, I have to do this, I have to grad­u­ate. Now it’s like, I have to do it, no ques­tion about it.”

STEVE WOR­THY

Shaw ju­nior safety Jaleel Scrog­gins takes the field dur­ing a Novem­ber game against St. Au­gus­tine’s in Raleigh. Scrog­gins was shot dur­ing a home in­va­sion at his apart­ment in Jan­uary 2019.

STEVE WOR­THY

Shaw’s Jaleel Scrog­gins tack­les Fayet­teville State’s Bran­don Per­son-Boyd in Oc­to­ber in Fayet­teville. Scrog­gins was voted All-CIAA First-Team af­ter fin­ish­ing the sea­son with 49 tack­les, three in­ter­cep­tions and eight tack­les for loss.

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