His drink of choice was tequila. Tequila and orange juice.
“I was drinking every day,” Quinton Jefferson tells The Post.
He reveals why:
“I don’t know if you know about the NFL, it’s one of the most stressful jobs in the world,” Jefferson said. “Every day you have to be on your s–t. One bad day you can be out the league.”
A torn ACL as a rookie in 2016, a broken hand, a broken foot and an NFL dream that occasionally bordered on broken as Quinton Jefferson journeyed from Seattle to Los Angeles for one month, back to Seattle, to Buffalo, to Las Vegas back again, to Seattle, finally to the Jets this season.
“I was going through a lot of stuff — that might drive you to drink,” Jefferson says.
“On top of that, you got four kids and a wife — life can be a lot. And you use other vices to numb it out. You kind of want to block out that noise and now you want to block out that pain, but the problem’s still there.”
The problem accelerated in Buffalo during the pandemic.
“I noticed on the counter we had a huge tequila bottle that somebody gifted us,” his wife Nadia told The Post, “and I wasn’t drinking it, but I noticed it was getting lower and lower. “
They were introduced by her best friend when Jefferson played at Maryland.
“He is a very, very confident person, I think opposite of me,” Nadia said. “We’re very opposite in a lot of ways but in ways a lot alike — we love fashion, we love art, we love movies, food. He’s just very passionate, and he’s so intelligent.”
But that Quinton Jefferson too often became a memory.
“I used to say he was a dead body in the room the next day if he drank, because he would just not be able to be active with me, our kids in doing things, that he needed to sleep,” Nadia said. “He couldn’t function the next day from it.”
On a couch in their rental home in Las Vegas, Nadia decided it was the time to act.
“I said, ‘You are an African-American male, you are a football player, you’re a husband, you’re a dad.’ I suggested he talk to somebody,” Nadia said. “Those are all very big things for somebody to carry. The tension of having to move, having four kids, it just got to a place where like he was just out too much and I was just like, ‘We can’t keep doing this. We’re too old for this.’ ”
It was heartbreaking.
“It’s just hard when you’re trying to be a mom and take care of the kids, but then you’re also trying to help out your husband, but you don’t know how to help him ’cause he doesn’t want to help himself,” Nadia said. “And you don’t want to be his mom, but at the same time, you sort of, ‘Yeah, I gotta tell him to get his s–t together.’”
They will be married 10 years in June. Their oldest child, Zoey, is 12. Identical twin daughters Charleigh and Quinn are 9. Yasin is 5.
“With a great partner, they’re a mirror,” Jefferson said. “They’re gonna tell you about yourself. You may not want to hear it but they’re gonna let you know. And she definitely let me know. And I had to get my s – -t together. It gave me the tools to get my s—t together.”
Back in Seattle for the third time, Nadia did the critical research.
“I started emailing therapists for him and found one that I thought he would like,” she said.
And still does. “We do virtual once a week,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson found a kindred spirit in Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich on his free-agent visit. Ulbrich had battled depression after a concussion ended his playing career and admitted to numbing the pain at times with alcohol. He began attending group therapy sessions.
“It was two men that are very comfortable being vulnerable, speaking about feelings, mental health,” Ulbrich told The Post, “a lot of things that a lot of guys, especially within this business and this walk of life are very uncomfortable talking about.
“We talked about my experiences for sure. And when you talk about those experiences, a lot of times it’s how did you get yourself out of that? And how do you continue to work on your mental health and your state of mind from a daily basis? It’s so refreshing to be around a guy like him that’s willing to open up, that’s willing to expose a lot of things that a lot of guys, especially from a player standpoint where sometimes vulnerability would be perceived as weakness amongst people that don’t really understand mental health. But he was not, which I was so fortunate and so grateful for.”
Ulbrich was looking for a defensive tackle. Jefferson was looking for a team.
“Here’s a guy from the outside looking in I always had tremendous respect for because of the player that he is and the strain that he puts on tape and the teammate that everybody spoke of that he is, and then to find out there was this other side of him, I just gained that much more respect and regard for this man. Just an exceptional human being.”
Jefferson knew right then and there this was the right place and the right coach for him.
“Coming here, me and him had a real, real-life conversation that made me want to play for him,” he said.
Jefferson, 30 now, is going on his third year of sobriety.
“I am very proud of him, yes,” Nadia said. “I think it’s easy to go backwards. You’re around a lot of guys who drink and want to go out, but there’s also a lot of guys who don’t do it. So I think surrounding yourself with good people helps. In Vegas he had very supportive teammates and here same thing.”
He is the Quinton Jefferson she fell in love with at first sight.
“I think he’s more present, and I think he seems happier,” Nadia said. “And I think he notices more just in general about life and enjoys life in other ways more.”
Quinton Jefferson will be wearing No. 70 on Monday night against the Chargers.
“I’m just glad I was aware enough to see it, accept it, and then try to make some changes from there,” he said.
He won the Battle of the Bottle. Not everyone does. Good for him. And for them.
This story originally appeared on NYPost