Bears’ Jaleel Scroggins’ remarkable comeback
For Bears’ Jaleel Scroggins, 2019 was an eventful year
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.”
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.
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.