How Quinton Jefferson went from Best Buy to Seahawks' defensive line

Seahawks envision versatile role for rookie Quinton Jefferson (1:22)

Seattle is hoping that fifth-round pick Quinton Jefferson can play a Michael Bennett-type role, says ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia. (1:22)

RENTON, Wash. -- The memory that stands out in Quinton Jefferson's mind involves Black Friday, a customer with a Ford Focus and a 60-inch television.

"I asked them, 'How do you expect me to put this in your car? I don't even think it's possible to fit,'" said Jefferson, a defensive lineman out of Maryland whom the Seattle Seahawks drafted in the fifth round of this year's draft. "But we made it work, somehow."

Jefferson's teammates were getting ready for their 2011 season finale the next day against NC State, but he was home working at a Best Buy in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.

He remembers 18-wheelers filled so tightly that Xboxes would spill out when he would open the door; setting up TVs on the display walls; and going aisle by aisle doing price checks. Sometimes he would get there at 11 p.m. during the holidays and work for more than 24 hours straight.

And he remembers his co-workers, many of whom viewed the job as much more than just a stop on their way to something bigger.

Jefferson had been at Maryland that summer, but he was home in Pittsburgh for a couple of weeks before the start of camp. One night, he went out with some friends, and they got into a fight. Jefferson woke up the next morning and remembers walking into his parents' room with a face so swollen that he didn't even recognize himself in the mirror.

"It was shocking," his mother, Bahiyyah, said. "We didn't even know he was hurt. We were getting ready for work. I was brushing my teeth. I remember very much what I was doing. And I turn around and I look at him and was like, 'Oh my God! What happened?'"

Jefferson had broken his jaw, and his freshman season was over before it started. Instead of going to school, he had surgery the next day and decided to stay home, where his family could help him recover. The doctors put a plate in his jaw and wired it shut. Jefferson lived off of chicken broth, blended chicken noodle soup and milkshakes. His mom tried to make smoothies, but the fruit would get stuck in the wiring in Jefferson's mouth.

His weight dropped from 230 to 160 pounds. But Jefferson's parents were not about to let him feel sorry for himself. They made sure he kept working, days and nights, at Best Buy while training to get back to football.

"I think it shaped him, because it made him hungry, and it made him humbled, and it made him appreciate," his mother said. "I'm not saying he didn't appreciate. But sometimes you don't realize the opportunities that you are given until you have that taken away from you. And you have to see what's going on and what other people are going through, what they're doing.

"I think he really appreciated the opportunity that he was blessed with to go to school, to get his education, to play something that he loved to play, to be able to do those things and have a choice in what he was doing. Because a lot of people, he realized, don't have a choice. They have to work and maybe do things they don't want to do."

Greg Gattuso, now head coach at Albany, recruited Jefferson to Maryland.

"It was a hard time for him," Gattuso said. "It was an unfortunate thing. I could've broken the other side of his jaw after it happened. It just wasn't the kind of kid he is and not what he's about. I think that was one of the things he needed to gain, was more grit and more toughness. I think loading boxes at Best Buy really made him realize he wanted to play football.

"I think Quinton needed that. I saw an immediate change in him when he got to Maryland, that he was more businesslike, and he understood what he almost gave up. That near miss, I think, was probably -- if he goes on and has a great career -- the turning point for him."

'A blessing in disguise'

Jefferson got his weight up and saw the field in 2012. The following season, he really began to find his way, starting all 13 games.

But in 2014, during the third game of the season, he suffered a torn ACL against West Virginia when a teammate fell on Jefferson's leg. He left the game for a short period of time, put a brace on and returned. Jefferson finished the game with five tackles and a sack. The next day he learned his season was over.

It was a wild four-month stretch. Jefferson had gotten married in June, and his wife, Nadia Jackson, gave birth to twin girls, Charleigh and Quinn, in July. The family of five, including older daughter, Zoey, moved into a new place in August. And the injury occurred in September.

Once again, Jefferson was forced to find some way to turn a negative into a positive.

"It was not what he obviously planned for and what we had planned for," Jackson said. "But it was really great that he got to be home that first year with them. It definitely would have been harder for him traveling and them being so young. They wouldn't have had that bond that they have now."

As Jefferson's father, Larry, added, "That was actually the best thing. Know why? Because at the same time, his wife had the children, and he was actually able to be home with them. So as heartbreaking as that was football-wise, personal-wise, it came out to be the best thing."

Jefferson's days consisted of rehab, schoolwork and family time. He was able to return to the field in 10 months, and in his first season back, Jefferson finished with 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.

"It was a blessing in disguise, because I got to spend a lot of time that I probably wouldn't have with my daughters," Jefferson said. "I couldn't travel to the games because I was immobile, so I got to spend time with them. We'd watch the games together. It really helped me get into my routine of how to be a father with my three girls and how to balance football and school. So I think it helped in the long run. It definitely helped me."

One of the reasons Jefferson decided to forego his final year of eligibility was because he had already earned his degree in family science.

"I was really proud of him," Jackson said. "That was one thing I said to him. Even if you don't make it to the NFL, I wanted him to get a degree for that reason, because you never know how long football's going to last. And I said, 'You know, the real world's going to hit. You're going to need to get a real job. And that's a real degree that will get you somewhere.'

"So I'm just beyond, beyond, beyond proud of him that he was able to balance all that."

Crying 'like a baby'

Jackson remembers asking Jefferson before the draft if he thought he was going to cry. He said he wouldn't, and she told him it was OK. She would let enough tears flow for the both of them.

The family spent the three-day draft at the home of Jefferson's parents in Pittsburgh. Every day, the same crowd of family and close friends gathered and waited to hear his name called. Jefferson's mother made sure he had plenty of Mike and Ikes, his favorite candy.

But as the rounds went on and the names came off the board, Jefferson grew frustrated. On Saturday, he decided he'd rather hang out on the porch with his wife and kids, instead of sitting in front of the TV.

Finally, in the fifth round, the Seahawks traded up with the New England Patriots, and Seattle general manager John Schneider called Jefferson to let him know the Seahawks were taking him. Jefferson said he didn't even know what round it was at the time, but that didn't matter.

"When I got that call, just a lot of emotion went through me," Jefferson said. "It's like all that hard work, you just go back to thinking, everything that you went through and everything you did to get there, to get to this point, to get this phone call. I tried to stay calm and keep my emotions together. But once I saw it go across the screen, I just lost it. I think every football player works for that moment, to see your name go across there. It was just overwhelming for me and my whole family."

As his mother added, "I've never seen my son cry like that. The joy -- he didn't expect himself to cry like a baby. He did. It was just a wonderful sight."

What's next

As for his next step, the Seahawks believe Jefferson can develop into an dynamic interior pass-rusher.

Michael Bennett plays defensive end on base downs but moves inside when the Seahawks go to their sub packages. Bennett has carved out a unique role and has become one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the NFL.

Jefferson has a long way to get to where Bennett is at, but the organization sees similar traits in his game.

"He plays all over," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He can play 3-technique and 1-technique and slide out. He gives us the flexibility, he's a very unique player. That's why when John [Schneider] saw it happen, he said, 'Let's go do it, let's go get him.' It was a rare opportunity for us.

"He can play like Mike [Bennett] plays in the different spots. He's got the kind of quickness and stuff that gives him that ability to be flexible. He's faster than a lot of guys at his size, and he has a sense for getting skinny and getting in the backfield and penetrating."

Jefferson is in a good place now. He's healthy and has a chance to contribute right away on a defense that has led the NFL in fewest points allowed for four straight seasons. He has his degree in hand, and soon enough, his family will move across the country to join him.

Jefferson said he thinks often about the hurdles along the way, the people that helped him and how well-equipped he is now to handle adversity.

"If I'm running or I'm lifting and it gets hard, I just think, 'You could be back at Best Buy lifting boxes,'" he said. "This is easy, it's a blessing. You get to do what you love."

"A lot of people showed a lot of love for me in a dark time. I couldn't ask for better people to be around," Jefferson continued. "Everything I do is for [my daughters] and my wife. I want them to have a good life. I want to be that role model for them, tell them they can do anything they want to. They can achieve their dreams because their father has."