Eagles' Avant goes from selling drugs to living for the Lord
BY ROB MAADDI Associated Press
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
12/26/12 at 3:56 AM
PHILADELPHIA - Jason Avant was 12 when he started selling drugs. He went to elementary school drunk and high. As a teenager, he belonged to one of Chicago's notorious gangs called the "Gangsters Disciples." Dodging bullets and running from the police were common for him.
Yet somehow Avant, a 29-year-old wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, escaped that life. Now he's one of the most respected players in the NFL.
"When I lift my hands up (after every reception), it's me saying 'Lord, I know where I could be and I thank you for where I am,' " Avant recalled last week. "I remember the times our house was shot up. I remember when I didn't have any avenues, when I sold drugs. So I lift my hands up and thank the Lord for all He has done for me."
Avant grew up on the south side of Chicago in a neighborhood riddled with gangs, drugs and violence. He was abandoned by his mother as a kid and was raised by his grandmother because his father was in and out of jail.
But his grandmother Lillie wanted a better life for Jason and refused to give up on him. She used the power of prayer to steer him in the right direction.
"She was a great woman, a saved woman," Avant said with a smile. "She would pray for me every night. 'Lord, let him be different. Let his life change.'... She would lay her hands on me for an hour at night and just pray for me."
Avant would go to church with his grandmother and return to the streets to sell drugs. But words from the service would be ringing in his ears.
"I was the worst drug dealer in the world," he said. "Sitting there hearing the songs (in church) would always make me cry because I knew I was selling drugs. "
Avant's grandmother eventually sold her house after it was raided twice by police, and Avant ended up moving in with his aunt.
Avant's dad, Jerry, took him in whenever he was released from prison, only to have to send him back after getting arrested again. Three times, Avant moved to Decatur, Ill., with his father, then went back to Chicago.
With no stability in his life, he struggled with his grades. His sophomore year, he ended up at Carver High School, which was in the middle of the projects.
"There were dead bodies, metal detectors, drugs in lockers, all that type of stuff," Avant said. "A teacher got killed and her body was found in a Dumpster all cut up. A guy I played basketball with got shot."
Avant was a talented basketball player. His coach, Willie Simpson, also coached the football team and told him he had to play both sports or neither.
Avant wound up at wide receiver his junior year and quickly became the top-ranked prep player in Illinois and one of the highest-rated players in the country.
Scholarships poured in from several high-profile universities. Avant chose Michigan. Once in Ann Arbor, Avant began attending church with his roommate, running back Alijah Bradley,.
On May 4, 2003, Avant was listening to a sermon at True Worship Church in Detroit when images from his life started flashing in his mind.
"The Lord began to replay all the times my was house was shot up when I was selling drugs. The bullet hole right where my grandmother sits and she wasn't in the chair.... God is replaying this through my mind and the last thing he says: 'I made a way for you to go to school. After all I have done for you, Jason, you can't surrender your life to me?' It was a miracle for me to go to school. I needed everything to go right. So I surrendered my life to him."
Nowadays, he leads teammates in Bible study and mentors young players and veterans.
The humble Avant is in his seventh season with the Eagles and the third year of a five-year, $15 million contract extension signed in 2010. But Avant and his family live a modest lifestyle.
"God has blessed me with so much," he said. "I think a Bentley looks fine. But what that is going to lead to is more distractions.
"You are a steward over what you have and if you let it get to your head, it can get stripped away."
Original Print Headline: Eagles' Avant finds better path
Philadelphia's Jason Avant, shown making a catch against Tampa Bay earlier this month, has managed to take a childhood path that was riddled with gangs, drugs and violence and turn it into becoming one of the most well-respected players in the NFL. BRIAN BLANCO / AP