Former Oregon wide receiver Jaylon Redd expected to spend the past four months rehabilitating his fractured foot and preparing for next week’s NFL draft.
Instead, what should have been an exciting time in his life, filled with promise and hope, was spent contending with dread and uncertainty.
Last December, Redd was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The news shocked the Redd family, especially given Jaylon’s youth and excellent health.
“I would not wish it on anybody,” said his father, Fred Redd. “It was the toughest thing I’ve been through as a dad.”
But after successful surgery in January, Redd, 23, has been working his way back into physical condition in hopes that his NFL dreams might resume.
“I’m feeling good,” Redd said. “I’m ready to get back into it. I’m ready to go. My hope is for somebody to give me an opportunity. “
Stunned by the news was former Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, now the head coach at Akron. Even Moorhead didn’t know what Redd had been going through but felt confident that if anyone could recover from such adversity to get back onto the field and succeed, it would be Redd.
“From a pure mentality standpoint, if there’s ever a kid that I’ve been around who can overcome this type of adversity and is equipped to do it because of his mental toughness, it would be Jaylon,” Moorhead said.
THE “C” WORD
Redd still won’t refer to what he had as cancer. He doesn’t want others around him to use it either. He calls it the “the C word,” according to his father.
Hearing it for first time ever in reference to him had been too difficult to comprehend at the time.
Redd had returned to Oregon for his sixth season as a super senior to make up for the shortened 2020 season. He hoped to put together his best statistical year to set himself up for a shot in the NFL.
But things didn’t work out too well. Slowed by a left foot injury, Redd got off to a slow start and never got rolling. It didn’t help that Oregon’s passing offense struggled much of the season. Then, Redd fractured that same foot during a practice in the days following the team’s win Nov. 13 over Washington State and was lost for the season.
“It was definitely frustrating but I have to control what I can control,” Redd said.
Redd finished his Oregon career with 131 receptions for 1,435 yards and 16 touchdowns. His best two seasons came in 2018 and 2019, when he had a combined 88 catches for 898 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He began the rehabilitation process right away in hopes of taking advantage of offseason pre NFL draft preparation, most notably Oregon’s Pro Day, scheduled for April 1.
About a week after the Ducks had lost to Utah in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 3, Redd said he began experiencing discomfort after a meal. He initially thought it was from being too full, or maybe he had food poisoning. But he couldn’t keep food down and the pain was intense enough to send him to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene.
“He said he just did not feel good,” mother Alicia Redd said. “He couldn’t stop vomiting.”
Redd’s parents, in Los Angeles, told their son that he probably had a virus, and to go to the hospital, get checked out and get some electrolytes. They told him he would probably be fine.
He checked in on Dec. 11 and stayed overnight. During his stay, he called his mom to say he still wasn’t feeling well.
The following Tuesday, the hospital called and asked Redd to return for additional tests. He went in Wednesday morning for tests. That same day, Redd again had a bout of vomiting. Alicia Redd flew up Friday morning to be with her son. An hour after arriving at Redd’s home on Dec. 17, they received a call from the hospital.
During a three-way conversation between Fred Redd in Los Angeles, Alicia and Jaylon in Eugene, and the doctor, the family received the news. Doctors had found a 2½-centimeter tumor on his pancreas.
“And it was cancerous,” Alicia Redd said.
Redd was in disbelief.
“He walked out of the room and sat on the couch,” Fred Redd said.
Typically stoic, Redd was at a loss for words. He was impacted emotionally. At first. Then he quickly composed himself.
But he found the strength to face the issue head on. Control what he could control. Work to overcome it.
His parents were taken more for a loop. Alicia Redd said the news devastated her, but she maintained her emotions to be strong for her son.
“It was tough to hear those words,” Fred Redd said.
How could it be, they thought. Redd was so young. According to Cancer.net, 90% of those who get pancreatic cancer are over 55 and 70% are over 65.
Redd and his mom flew home to Los Angeles on Dec. 20. The family wanted to seek a second opinion but that would have to wait until after the holidays.
“Christmas was a mess,” Fred Redd said.
The news rocked the family. Redd has two older sisters, Tekeya, 35, and Ari, 32, who lived elsewhere. Both were bossy over their little brother while he grew up in part because, as the baby, he was so spoiled. Now, they were there for him, showering him with love and support. In spite of the circumstances, the family dynamic proved to be healing.
“It was the first time I had all of my children home for the holidays in 10 to 12 years,” Fred Redd said. “So, that was good.”
Redd had also been diagnosed with pancreatitis, which is what had initially made him throw up. It was caused by the tumor interfering with his digestive system. Spicy food would make him sick. His mother specially prepared food he could keep down.
After Christmas, the family got a second opinion. Same result. But there was good news. According to Redd, doctors at Riverside Kaiser determined that the cancer had not spread and that they could remove the tumor and Redd would be cancer free.
The problem was setting a date. The family wanted the surgery done as soon as possible, but the hospital said that staff limitations and a backlog of cases, including many involving COVID-19, would delay surgery for months.
That was unacceptable to Fred Redd.
“I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Redd said. “I just kept at them. I was looking at other facilities to get it done at. I was very adamant about getting this done as soon as possible. “
Finally, the hospital worked it out.
“Within two to three weeks, it all came together,” he said.
His surgery was set for Jan. 31.
In a matter of weeks, Redd had gone from rehabilitating a foot injury and mentally preparing for an offseason of prepping for the NFL draft to dealing with something far more serious.
The family received calls from agents and scouts in December about Redd and the NFL. But they ignored most because they were dealing with the cancer diagnosis.
Redd’s parents could not be with their son during surgery, or for his week of recovery in the hospital.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, they weren’t even allowed into the hospital other than to drop him off. Even then, only one parent could enter.
“That was the craziest time for me and my wife,” Fred Redd said.
After dropping him off at 5 am Redd’s parents sat in the parking lot of the hospital, waiting for any information. They received a text telling them the surgery had started at 7:30 am
Redd said he prayed for the people operating on him as he faded into rest under anesthesia.
With nothing to do but wait, Redd’s parents went to have breakfast at a nearby restaurant, figuring the six-hour surgery would conclude before 2 pm A call didn’t come, so they decided to head home.
The surgery ended about 4 pm It had been a success.
“When I woke up, I was in so much pain,” Redd said. “I just wanted to recover and get out of the hospital.”
Relieved, Redd’s parents were happy to FaceTime with their son to check on him. But they wanted so badly to be there with him.
“They kept him for seven days and we couldn’t see him at all during that time,” Alicia Redd said. “Imagine how tough that was for us as parents.”
Redd spent the first two days after surgery battling illness, and mostly resting while on medication. But by the third day, he shocked doctors by walking with assistance. By the end of the week, he could walk on his own.
“He was miserable in the hospital,” Fred Redd said. “He went through so much discomfort.”
It took Redd five weeks to get back to feeling completely normal. He slowly increased his physical activity as he went along. Jogging. Running. Riding a bike.
His eating also gradually picked up.
“He’s eating everything in the house,” Alicia Redd said. “He got through recovery better than anyone anticipated.”
As soon as he had enough strength, Redd was back on a football field, working out. But he was unable to get himself ready for Oregon’s Pro Day. His foot had healed but he hadn’t fully recovered from the surgery enough to participate. That day, being unable to show NFL scouts what he could do along with his teammates, hurt.
“I wanted to perform,” Redd said.
Now he hopes to be able to do so in any individual workout or opportunity a team might offer.
“Now that everything’s over, this is my time to look forward with my career and what I want to do right now,” Redd said.
His desire to compete remains. He said he misses the competition. That feeling of trying to defeat another person on the football field, where anything can happen.
Moorhead said he believes Redd has the potential to play professionally.
“He was always a great teammate, an incredible leader, a guy that treated the game with the respect that it deserves in practice and in games,” Moorhead said. “To me, he was the consummate leader.”
Moorhead said Redd has the right mindset to succeed as a professional because of how he approaches every practice rep, drill and practice period as if they were a game.
“He carries those habits onto the field on game day,” Moorhead. “His best attribute is his mentality and his work ethic.”
Plus, he has the speed and quickness to make plays, Moorhead said.
“But in terms of his value at the next level, his is a guy who’s incredibly fast,” Moorhead said. “He’s got excellent change of direction. He’s a guy that can make people miss in space and I think that that will also translate into pretty good special teams value as a returner. So, hopefully he gets an opportunity to show what he can do at the next level. “
Adjusting to NFL offenses shouldn’t be an issue, Moorhead said.
“His football IQ is off the charts,” he said. “We lined him up primarily as a slot because of his stature and ability to be a mismatch on safeties and linebackers. But his ability to line up at a bunch of different positions for an NFL roster that doesn’t carry a ton of receivers, I think that’s something that’ll benefit Jaylon because he’s smart enough to know both inside and outside positions. “
All Redd wants is a chance. He said he would be ready to go 100% if given the opportunity.
“I think I’m ready to play the game,” he said.
– Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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