JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Twice in six games, Jaydon Mickens has won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the Jaguars. No punt returner in franchise history had ever done that before. The charismatic, former practice squad player has taken a long road to this point.
Mickens grew up in South Central Los Angeles, then starred at the University of Washington where he caught over 200 passes in four years. Ironically, he only returned four punts in college. After being cut by the Raiders after training camp, the Jaguars signed him to the practice squad in September. For the next month, Mickens, along with fellow practice squad receiver Larry Pinkard, was basically homeless.
“I know where I came from. Sleeping in a car, with me and Larry Pinkard for a month straight on practice squad, I understand,” Mickens said. “But now it was time to show and it's still time to show and we're going to keep growing.”
Mickens and Pinkard would hang out at a teammate's house after practice, then, at the end of the night, they would head back to the parking lot at EverBank Field.
“We would go to somebody's house, like Marqise (Lee's) house and we wouldn't tell them. Because we're not that type of people because he wants to be alone. It's his time. I'd go to his house. Leave at like 3 in the morning, come sleep in the care here, wake up at 5, come here get breakfast, hot tub, cold tub, get ready for work. I would pull down the back seat and then put my feet in the trunk and when the seat is leaning, I would fold up some clothes and lay down and have a towel like this and just sleep.”
Mickens said that he didn’t ask anybody at the team for a hotel room or other living accommodations because he didn’t want to take a handout. He also knew, that being a practice squad player can be a very temporary situation.
After a month of sleeping in his car and hoping to be elevated from the practice squad, Mickens got his chance in October, and he has taken full advantage. In his second game on the active roster, he returned a punt for a touchdown against Cincinnati. Last week, his 72-yard return to the one-yard line set up a Leonard Fournette score. His play and his toughness have not gone unnoticed.
“I never played (punt returner), but I know this: If I’m looking up at a ball and I know people are running down field trying to tackle me – I probably would be looking a little bit,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “I think it does take a feel. There is a certain courage about that position I would think that you need. I have a great appreciation for it.”
Mickens is gaining fans in the stands, and from his coaches.
"I’m pulling for that kid, all day long,” said Jaguars special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. I think from his upbringing and where he’s been, it’s great to see a guy like that succeed. I hope its sustained success, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Mickens admits that few of his teammates were aware of the sleeping arrangements he and Pinkard experienced. His teammates do know the impact that Mickens has made on the field.
“Nobody really knows,” Mickens said. “It ain't nothing to boast about. It's just a grind. It's a grind from Dorsey (High School) to Washington, I did what I had to do. I've been through worse.”