When Nazair Jones was a junior at a Roanoke Rapids, N.C., high school, he thought he might never play football again.
He thought he might not even walk again.
In this month’s NFL Draft, Jones, a defensive lineman, is projected to be a fourth-round pick, possibly to the New England Patriots.
The UNC product — 6 feet 5 inches tall, around 305 pounds — has a disease called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). When he was a junior in high school, it left him with swollen ankles, chronic pain and unable to walk.
The pain affecting his nervous system first arrived after a high school playoff game when he was 15.
“When you lose an ability that you had your whole life, it scares you,” Jones told Bleacher Report.
He was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, but injections didn’t solve the problem.
Then, doctors could not pinpoint the underlying cause of the severe pain.
He turned 16 the day he was admitted to a Chapel Hill hospital while feeling paralyzed from the waist down.
“They didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Jones told Bleacher Report. "That was the worst part… They didn’t know.”
Eventually, he was diagnosed with CRPS, and while immobile, lost 40 pounds.
Confined to a wheelchair, he grew concerned he’d never be able to beat the syndrome. Throughout the night, he’d experience extreme swelling in both legs.
His mother, Tammy, was by his side as he battled the tough condition. At one point, he asked doctors if he’d ever play football again, to which they responded they needed to get him walking first.
When doctors understood what was ailing Jones, it became clear that the pain had stemmed from an injury. It is a rare disease and as such, is not curable. But it is managed.
The next item on his agenda, though: learning to walk again. He spent six weeks at a Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill in order to help do so.
He went through rounds of tough physical therapy — included doing a walking motion in a pool — and even had his brainwaves monitored, Bleacher Report adds. But an immense challenge was walking one lap on the floor of the children’s hospital.
“It was, by far, the worst pain,” Jones told Bleacher Report.
“Picking up my legs and putting pressure on my feet again, with all of that swelling, that was the most painful part…” he added.
By May, he was walking on his own. That summer, he played basketball again, too, and added on the weight he’d lost.
Eventually, he made his way to UNC’s football camp to show coaches he was a skilled defensive player. He was offered a scholarship on the spot, Bleacher Report writes.
Since then, in three college seasons, Jones has led the Tar Heels’ defensive line. In 2016, he had 70 tackles and 2.5 sacks, the site reports.
For Jones, the condition could return at any point, but he says he is not concerned. He’s focusing on the future — as an NFL player.
Although NFL scouts have questioned him about the condition, Jones hopes to make a splash in the league this coming season.