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Syracuse DT Jayson Bromley overcomes dark past for bright future in NFL
Article written by: Ralph Vacchiano
He avoided the gangs and drugs on the streets of Jamaica, Queens, and the pimps and prostitutes that were frequent visitors to his apartment building. He sidestepped the roaches in his kitchen and the rats in the living room, too.
The only thing he couldn’t avoid was the anger. So a young Jayson Bromley, long before he became a football prospect, became a fighter. He fought anyone, anywhere, anytime, for any reason — mostly for no good reason at all.
“You couldn’t look at him,” says Frances Nimmons, the woman he calls Mom. “If somebody looked at him wrong, he’d fight him. He just was a kid with problems.”
“I had anger problems,” Bromley says. “All I wanted to do was fight people. I’d get mad and I’d black out and you couldn’t control me.”
He never figured out why that happened, despite years of counseling and endless talks with his mother. Maybe it came from the knowledge that his biological mother abandoned him when he was 3 months old, or that six months later his biological father was arrested for murder. Maybe it was all the crime around him, or the rodents that had become like pets.
Wherever the anger began, there was no question of where it ended.
“It didn’t stop until I started playing football,” Bromley says. “Football really calmed me down.”
Sitting in a lounge just outside the spacious weight room inside the football building at Syracuse University, Bromley, now 21 and long past his days at Flushing High School, admits he’s amazed at what he’s become — a 6-3, 306-pound defensive tackle coming off a 10-sack season, standing on the edge of the NFL. Football was never his dream. He was just a “chubby kid” who liked to hit people. For years the only football he played was unorganized tackle on the street.
Yet here he is, just a few days from graduating from Syracuse — the only Division I school that offered him a scholarship, reluctantly — on the same weekend he’ll likely hear his name called by the NFL. He has been projected as high as a third-rounder, though most peg him somewhere between Rounds 4 and 6.
Bromley, though, believes he should go much higher.
“I’ve watched the best D-tackles in the country and I look at them and say ‘Ain’t nothing that they do that I don’t do — that I can’t do,’ ” he says. “Aaron Donald (a defensive tackle from Pittsburgh) was the best defensive player in the country this year. But I told him ‘If me and you are on the same team, I’m starting.’ ”
“That’s who he’s always been,” says Syracuse defensive line coach Tim Daoust. “He wants to know, Where is the bar set? Who are the great ones?”
“He is so determined,” Nimmons adds. “It’s scary.”
There have been scarier things in Bromley’s past, like the summer day in 1992 when Nimmons got a call about a baby that had been left on the doorstep of a stranger. The stranger called Child Services, but someone suspected the baby belonged to Nimmons’ brother, James Jones, and his girlfriend, Tyreine Bromley. Nimmons raced to Queens to pick up the 3-month-old Jayson.
Tyreine Bromley had a drug problem, Nimmons says. Jayson was born with a crack addiction, and Jones wasn’t exactly the fatherly type. According to a Daily News story from 1994, testimony at his murder trial revealed Jones was a pimp and he was sentenced to 8½ to 25 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and unlawful imprisonment after he tied up one of his prostitutes — also the mother of his daughter — to a radiator in his basement. He had beat her. The woman, Shirley Ross, later died.
That was just nine months after Jayson Bromley was born.
So Frances and Roy Nimmons, Jayson’s aunt and uncle, raised him as their own. With the help of her mother Kay, Jayson’s grandmother, they endured the early years when Nimmons says Jay’s drug affliction made his cries so severe often no one would babysit him. A testicular hernia that wasn’t removed until he was six months old made him cry even more.
As he grew up, the Nimmonses, Bromely’s mom and dad as far as he’s concerned — he knows his biological parents, but considers them “more like family friends” — did their best to keep him off the troubled streets of Queens. Nimmons’ one rule was simple: “When that street light comes on, you better be in the house,’” she says. They put him in summer school to keep him occupied. They put him to work, too, painting and fixing up the apartment building, which was just fine with him.
“I always liked to make my own money,” Bromley says. “So I always worked, whether it was shoveling snow in the winter time, cleaning people’s backyards, cleaning people’s houses. My brother used to buy houses and renovate them so I used to do the demolition on the houses, carrying 50-pound bags up and down the steps. I was probably like 12, 13.”
Still, it was around then that the child with problems began to turn into a problem child, looking for fights wherever he could find them. His counselors suggested medication. Nimmons refused. She worried he’d eventually just quit school.
“It wasn’t easy growing up in my house,” Bromley says. “I had three older sisters and none of them graduated high school. I’m the youngest kid and I’m not looking up to anything positive as far as going to school and doing the right thing. How do you come from that? How do you build yourself up to say ‘I want to go to school?’ ”
He pauses. “Football,” he says. “Football made me go to school. Because if I didn’t go to school, I couldn’t play.”
Bromley couldn’t play much when Jim DeSantis, Flushing’s head coach, got his first look at him. That was a few months after Bromley nearly quit before he even started. His grandmother died before his freshman year and he was too heartbroken to continue. “She was his whole world,” Nimmons says. “So I just told him ‘Grandma said ‘Do what would make you happy.’ ’ ”
Football, it turned out, made Bromley happy. He was short, fat and raw at first, but DeSantis saw a work ethic and determination that few matched. By his senior year, Bromley had grown into his frame and DeSantis and his defensive line coach Rudy Alvarellos — a “father figure” to Bromley, who died in February — knew they had a late-blooming monster, even if nobody else did.
Late in his senior year, Bromley had no Division I offers and DeSantis “had to beg” the other PSAL coaches to put Bromley on the all-city team. That got him into the 2010 Empire Classic all-star game where he showed everyone what they were missing. He dominated with two sacks, seven tackles (three for a loss) and two passes batted at the line. He was named the MVP, and within days he had a scholarship offer from Syracuse.
“Syracuse really got lucky,” Bromley says. “They found a diamond in the rough.”
He went on to be a three-year starter for the Orange and broke out with a big senior season. More importantly, the once angry teenager had turned into a big teddy bear of a man — a leader off the field, a captain on it, and a man who friends and coaches say is rarely caught without a big, wide smile.
“I’ve been with him for three years and I don’t know that angry side of him,” Daoust says. “He is a humble, hungry young man who goes to work every day. I love him. He’s a leader. He’s somebody I don’t worry about socially or with the decisions he’s going to make.”
“He’s just a totally different kid now,” Nimmons says. “He became a real good man.”
Through that big smile Bromley admits “it’s crazy how my demeanor changed.” He’s grateful for the influence of his mom, grandmother and Alvarellos, but he also recalls that “every other man that came into my house was always coming out of jail or something. It was always something negative. So I don’t really understand how I developed a mentality of actually wanting to be positive when there was so much negative around me.
“I feel like the past molded me into the man I am today, taught me what I don’t want in my life. A lot of people have people in their lives that are positive examples of what to do. Everything in my life taught me what not to do.”
That’s why, even as he prepares for the NFL draft, Bromley makes frequent trips back to Flushing to talk to the kids surrounded by that familiar negativity.
“We get a lot of kids who decide not to get into sports and stray and do stupid things,” DeSantis says. “Jay is a great, positive example of what sports can do.”
The thought of that brings yet another smile to Bromley.
“Growing up, I never saw that dude from my neighborhood that went to school and was doing something positive,” Bromley says. “I want to be that guy.”