Judy Mickens is a curator and her museum is a Hall of Fame of sorts, displaying the career highlights of her middle son, and current Oakland Raiders wide receiver, Jaydon.
The front room of her modest, one-story home in South Central Los Angeles is meticulously arranged with memorabilia from every stage of her 22-year-old son’s football career, photos, commemorative footballs, and signed all helmets each have a prominent spot in the room located just off the kitchen.
A jersey from every team he’s played for from Pop Warner to the Silver and Black, and every stop in between? Check.
A three-ring binder filled with newspaper clippings from big games and scholar athlete awards? Also check.
You want to see the cardstock “W” that Jaydon held up to announce his commitment to the University of Washington? You better believe that’s there too.
Judy is a proud mother, and for good reason, and she keeps everything, I mean everything.
“I [keep] everything from when he was five years old, all the way up to college,” Judy said, proudly wearing her custom No. 19 Mickens jersey. “Every journey was a different journey.”
Looking back at his first season in the NFL, mother and son both agree that this most recent chapter in Jaydon’s journey might have been his most challenging.
Since the moment Judy’s middle child put on a helmet and pads, the game of football came easy to him. His game-changing speed quickly – no pun intended – made him one of the premier youth players in Los Angeles, and that success ultimately followed him to Dorsey High School, and then four years later to the University of Washington, where he finished his career as a Husky ranked second in school history in catches, and fifth in receiving yards.
Then, the 2016 NFL Draft came, and Jaydon wasn’t selected, signing with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent, going through the Offseason Workout Program and training camp before being waived, and ultimately spending the season on the team’s practice squad.
Mickens admits it was the first time he was told “no” during his football career, and the moment certainly humbled him – quickly.
“A very hard pill to swallow,” Mickens said.” It’s not about the money, or the paygrade you have, it’s more so about, you know you’re top notch, and you’re good enough to step on that football field, give 110 percent, and actually contribute, and you can’t do that on this team or the next.”
“Jaydon has gotten everything he wanted out of playing football, from Pop Warner, high school, college… He’s blessed to be on an NFL team, 100 percent, but that was my first season of football in years that I didn’t see him play on the field,” added Judy. “And Jaydon has always been on the field.”
To be fair, Jaydon was on the field all last season, just not on game day, and while he longed to be one of the 46 players suiting up on Sunday afternoon, he attacked his role on the practice squad with fervor and enthusiasm, making his scout team portrayal of the opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver as realistic as possible, even as some of his teammates on the active roster encouraged him to slow down a little bit.
“On that Sunday afternoon, or that Sunday night, or that Monday, or that Thursday, Brandin Cooks is not going to slow down,” Mickens explained. “Emmanuel Sanders is not going to slow down, all these players are going to bring you their best, and you’re going to get the best from me every single day.”
Did Mickens’ rookie season play out exactly the way he would have hoped? No, but the speedy wideout used his first NFL season as a learning experience, harkening back to a tattoo inked on the inside of his left arm when doubt creeped in.
“E plus R equals O; event plus response equals outcome,” Mickens explains, pointing down at his tattooed inner arm. “How am I going to respond to being on the practice squad? [If] I respond negatively, it’s going to be a negative outcome. If I respond positively, it will be a positive outcome. In that moment, in that season, I wanted to respond in a positive way, embrace everything that came my way, and then when the time comes, and the opportunity comes, I have to stand up and shine.”
Mickens is hoping his time to stand up and shine will come sooner than later, and the strides he has made since joining the Raiders last year haven’t gone unnoticed, particularly from one of his veteran offensive teammates.
“The stuff he did last year during practice when he was on practice squad, you guys didn’t see any of that film, but believe me, he’s going to be a mess on these [defensive backs] when it comes,”
Heading into his second year as a Raider, Mickens says he’s calmer, both on and off the field; he’s been working on his punt returns, and he feels ready to take the next step in his career, not just being on the active roster, but being one of the 46 players to dress on game day.
And if and when that happens, his mother Judy will be cheering from the stands, and after the game ends, she’ll inevitably return home to clear a little space in the front room of her house - there are more footballs, jerseys, and newspaper articles to file away.