RENTON — The best part about Quinton Jefferson’s breakthrough performance for the Seahawks on Sunday wasn’t his two sacks, his six tackles or his two passes defended in a victory over Cincinnati.
Well, OK, it wasn’t just his two sacks, his six tackles and his two passes defended … because those were important for a former fifth-round draft pick who has worked through two major knee injuries, was released by two different teams in his second NFL season and is now a 26-year-old defensive lineman playing on a one-year prove-it contract with no guarantees beyond this season.
But, yes, beyond his production Sunday, the best part of Jefferson’s breakthrough was that his 5-year-old daughter Charleigh was watching for the first time in the stands at CenturyLink Field.
“She was so excited to see his face on the screen and the announcer saying his name,” Jefferson’s wife, Nadia, said. “She was like, ‘Wait a second?’ She was screaming: ‘There’s Daddy! There’s Daddy!’”
Quinton and Nadia have four children: Zoey, 8; twins Charleigh and Quinn; and a son, Yasin, 20 months old. For most home games, Zoey usually accompanies Nadia in the stands, while the three youngest stay at the Seahawks’ Little Hawks gameday child care center.
It was a treat for Charleigh to huddle up with the rest of the 12s inside CenturyLink for the season opener, and treat too for Nadia to see Quinton play what Pete Carroll called the best game of the defensive end’s career.
“It was super special,” Nadia said. “I feel like he works so hard all the time, and I think it’s so great for him to get acknowledged in that way. It felt like, finally, here it is. It’s his moment.”
Quinton, 6 foot 4 and 291 pounds, has referred to himself “a human jungle gym” for his kids, and at the family’s Newcastle house he’s the one often trying to elude tackles.
“Usually when he gets home, they’re like, ‘Yes, another human to play with!’” Nadia said. “They’re literally crawling on his back, pulling on him, jumping on him.”
Added Quinton: “As soon as I walk through the door, they’re going crazy. They’re jumping on me, jumping off the damn stairs and going crazy.”
Quinton, then playing at the University of Maryland, was 19 when he met Nadia and became a stepdad to Zoey. The twins were born a couple years later while he was recovering from his first torn ACL during his junior year. Nadia had a complicated pregnancy with the twins, and she said Quinton embraced fatherhood full-bore in helping raise Zoey — while also attending school, rehabilitating his knee and eventually returning to the field.
“It made me really prioritize my life and get my life organized. It helped me focus,” he said. “I was literally just going to school, playing ball and coming home and being a dad. That was the structure I needed.”
During the Seahawks season, Tuesday is the off day for players, and Quinton helps drop off the girls at school and enjoys a brunch or coffee date with Nadia.
“I’m still growing,” he said this week of being a dad. “I just love coming home and seeing the joy they have. It’s pure joy when you know someone honestly and unconditionally loves you. You can’t do no wrong in their eyes. I might have a bad day (at work), but I’ll come home and they make me forget about everything. I love that.”
Nadia maintains a blog, “Jefferson Party of 6,” where she chronicles the family’s life, shares photos and gives restaurants recommendations.
“Especially in the football world, I guess some people are confused by it or they think it’s so much more grandiose than it is,” she said. “I thought someone somewhere would like it and understand it and feel my pain, share my happiness, share my sadness with me. I love taking pictures of the kids and going places with them.”
On Friday, Nadia was scheduled to fly out with the four kids to Pittsburgh ahead of the Seahawks’ game against the Steelers on Sunday. “Pray for me,” she joked before the cross-country flight.
It’s the first time she’s taken the whole family to a road game, and it’s an important one: Quinton grew up in Pittsburgh — as a Steelers fan, of course — and this weekend will be a reunion for the whole family.
Quinton has played at Heinz Field before — first as a pee-wee player during a scrimmage at halftime of a Steelers game, then in back-to-back Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championship games during his final two seasons at Woodland Hills High School (winning one and losing one).
After high school, he spent a year living at home with his parents while recovering from an injury and working the graveyard shift in the stockroom at a Best Buy.
After four years at Maryland, he said it was a dream to get invited to the Steelers’ facility for a workout and an interview before the 2016 draft. And he’s thrilled now to have the chance to play against Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback he rooted for for so long.
Quinton’s play against the Bengals last week drew praise from not only Carroll but also an unprompted shout out from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“I’ve been really impressed with Quinton Jefferson on the interior,” Tomlin said. “Pittsburgh kid, Woodland Hills guy — really been impressed with how his game has developed.”
It took longer than Quinton hoped to become a regular on the Seahawks’ defensive line. A fifth-round pick in 2016, he suffered another torn ACL in October of his rookie season, was released by the Seahawks in September 2017, claimed by the Rams, released again and was back in Seattle a month later.
Yasin was born in Seattle in December 2017, and Quinton put together his first full healthy season for the Seahawks in 2018 — starting 12 games and recording three sacks and five tackles for loss. That earned him a one-year contract for $2 million.
“Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I needed to get my ACL torn. Maybe I needed to get cut,” he said. “I appreciate where I’m at now. I know what it’s like to be on the other side, and I never want to go back there.”
After one breakthrough game, he’s eager to prove himself once again, starting Sunday back home in Pittsburgh.
“My biggest thing is doing it again. You do it once — can you do it again?” he said. “I’m going out this week — the whole D-line, we’re trying to cause havoc again. Trying to get in Ben’s face and try to stop the run.”