OSU football: Why Jelani Woods is thankful for his older brother every day
STILLWATER — Jelani Woods’ older brother doesn’t mince words.
“You missed a ball,” he’ll say.
Woods will shake his head.
“Be quiet, Jay,” he’ll reply.
But the truth is, the Oklahoma State tight end loves when his brother says something like that. Sure, Woods prefers when Javaric, who everyone calls Jay, has something good to mention. A big catch. An exciting touchdown. But any time Jay remembers anything, it’s good.
“It shows improvement in his ability to know things and learn things,” Woods said. “So I’m happy that he can do that.”
Jay Woods has a moderate intellectual disability. It hampers both his mental and motor functions. On the day we pause to give thanks, there’s no one for whom Jelani Woods is more grateful than Jay.
Even though the past couple seasons had some rough patches — a redshirt season, a change of position, then an injury that sidelined him the last few games a year ago — Jelani has never flinched.
“Jelani is determined,” his dad said.
Perseverance was something Jelani saw every day from Jay.
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Jelani quickly became part of the care Jay required every day. Routine was vital for him to learn what he had to do. Repetition was critical in trying to improve his retention. So, everyone in the family, including Jelani and his brother Jaleel, played a part in making sure Jay did what he needed to do.
But as Jelani got into high school, he took an even bigger role. He essentially took care of Jay, who is 10 years older than him, in the mornings so their parents could get to work. Jelani made sure Jay woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, brushed his teeth and got on the van that took him to his adult day center.
Jelani was never told by his mom, Shaheerah, and his dad, Greg, to do what he did.
- Related to this story
- Video: OU Football: Hurts on Bedlam
He just did it.
“It put me more in a mature way,” Jelani said of having a special-needs brother. “I had to grow up faster.”
He learned how to manage his time and balance his duties, but as much as than anything, he learned how to take care of his own business while looking out for others, too.
That became invaluable over the past couple years. It wasn’t easy to leave the quarterback position and try to become a Cowboy back, OSU’s name for the tight end-fullback hybrid position. Dealing with a knee injury that sideline him a couple months last season had its challenges, too. But in both instances, Woods put his head down and worked.
“Whatever he does, he’s gonna give it his all,” his dad said. “He’s gonna be a team player.”
Greg Woods remembers talking to Jelani after he decided to change positions. He felt he had a better chance of getting on the field as a Cowboy back, and even though he knew he’d have to learn new skills and different routes, he was excited for what the change could mean for him and for the Cowboys.
His dad could hear that resolve in his son’s voice as they talked.
“Dad, I’m determined,” Jelani told him. “I’m gonna be the best tight end not just in the Big 12, in the country.”
This season, Woods has taken strides toward that goal. He’s had more than one reception in five games, including a five-catch day against Baylor. Last week at West Virginia, he had his first touchdown catch of the season.
Now comes Bedlam.
Woods is excited to face the Sooners, of course, but he’s every bit as pumped that his entire family will be in Stillwater for the game.
Greg and Shaheerah, Jaleel and Jay made the drive from Georgia to Oklahoma earlier this week. They loaded up coolers with all sorts of Thanksgiving grub — macaroni and cheese along with broccoli and rice casserole top Jelani’s wish list — and they will be together for the holiday for the first time since Jelani left for OSU.
He is grateful for that.
But every day, he is thankful for the lessons he learned from his family. How to work. How to care. How to be part of something bigger than yourself.
And even with those occasional reminders of mistakes, Jelani is thankful, too, for Jay.
“You see him do new stuff sometimes, and it’s just like, ‘Wow, how did you do that?’” Jelani said. “It just makes you feel good. It just shows improvement.
“I’m just happy that he can remember me.”
Jelani Woods isn’t about to forget him.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.