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Jurrell Casey Overcomes Family Adversity to Succeed

Posted Sep 25, 2015

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey overcomes family adversity, credits imprisoned big brother for steering him away from trouble.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The tattoos that decorate Jurrell Casey’s upper body tell the story of his life.

Casey got the first one his junior year in high school, the initials J.C. on the back of each arm. Now, at 25 years of age, the Titans defensive lineman has over 50 of them. They represent his family, his hometown and his faith.

“Family, happiness, loving, supporting and caring, five things that I believe in and stand by,’’ said Casey, pointing to one before describing several others. “My mother’s name is here. This is for my grandmother, with a rose on my arm. And I have an angel on top. This arm is for all my family members, and the angel is protecting them.”

Casey, who’s from Long Beach, California, has a tattoo that represents California, with the beach, sunrise and palm trees. On his wrist, you’ll find the words “Born Ready, Always Been Great.”
“Basically, I want to remember where I came from,’’ said Casey, in his fifth season with the Titans. “They explain who I am and the people I love. A lot of people get tattoos for pictures and art. I get them to express myself, and explain who I am.”

There’s one more Casey has planned for his back that, when completed, will carry an extra special meaning.
It will tell the story of the path of destruction his older brother traveled, a road he steered clear of himself — thanks in large part to his brother — to reach his path of success to the National Football League, and in life.

“I want everything in the artwork to explain both of our journeys through life, from the time we grew up to where we are now,’’ Casey said. “Basically, it will be the dark and the light of his struggles and success, and struggles and my success and where we are today.”

Today, Jurray Casey is in a prison cell in California. Jurrell’s older brother has been there ever since he was found guilty of first-degree murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle in 2007 for an incident that took place a year earlier in Culver City, following his senior year in high school.

Jurray Casey, two years older than Jurrell, was also convicted of eight gun enhancements, including two allegations that he personally used a handgun to benefit a criminal street gang. He was sentenced to 50 years to life.

Jurray Casey, a promising high school defensive lineman/linebacker who had just secured a full scholarship to play football at the University of Oregon, was 17 at the time.

While the incident ended the life of another 17-year-old – Rashad Ali, the victim – it also changed the lives of so many others, including family and friends on both sides. It nearly caused Jurrell, a high school sophomore at the time, to give up on his own dreams.

“There was one point where I didn’t want to play football any more,’’ Casey admitted. “I didn’t want to go to college. But later, I was like, ‘Hey, either you follow the same path as your brother and end up dead or in jail also, or you can go and make something of yourself.’ I started hitting the books hard, and I had great people around me.”

“And, I also owe so much to my brother. Yeah, he got caught up in some things he shouldn’t have, and he’s paying for it. But he wouldn’t allow me to make the same mistakes. He wouldn’t let me hang around negative people, and he kept me away from trouble. And I thank him for that.”

Life these days for Jurrell Casey couldn’t be much better.

He’s a star player on an NFL team, and he’s engaged to be married. He’s a rich man. Last August, Casey signed a $36 million contract with the Titans, a deal that included over $20 million in guaranteed money. It was a huge bump after he collected roughly $2 million from his rookie deal, which he signed after the Titans drafted him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of USC.

The first thing Casey did last year: He bought his mother a house.

It was her reward for working two jobs as a single mother, and supporting Casey, his brother, and his two sisters.
“When Jurrell signed his contract he said, ‘Mom, you can give up your night job,’’’ Collette Burns, Casey’s mom, said with a smile. Burns remains employed as a cafeteria worker at Lindbergh Middle School in Long Beach, a job she’s had for 16 years.

”Jurrell has been so good to me. He tells me all the time he appreciates how much I sacrificed, and I appreciate him appreciating me. He’s a good boy. He’s my baby. I don’t care how old he is, he’ll always be my baby. I am so proud of him.

“But I am proud of both my boys. It hasn’t always been easy. Jurrell, he’s done good. But I am proud of Jurray because he wouldn’t let what happened to him happen to his baby brother.”
Jurrell Casey started playing football at the age of 7. It’s all he did growing up. His first job, in fact, was in the NFL.

Jurray Casey was a star player himself. As the oldest, he felt a responsibility to help support the family. He went to school, and worked. He seemingly had a bright future ahead of him.
But unlike Jurrell, Jurray spent time in the streets, and “he hung out with people he shouldn’t have,’’ Casey said.

On Jan. 8, 2006, the brothers’ lives changed forever.

“This particular night, something horrible happened,’’ Casey said, “and two families lost important people to both sides.”

Jurray Casey was supposed to be the first son to reach stardom on the football field.

“Jurray was it, he was everything,’’ said Ricky Johnson, Jurrell’s childhood friend who remains close to him today. “You think Jurrell is good, well, Jurray was it. He was going to make it big. The situation happened with him, and he got life. And it was like Jurrell lost his brother.”

Johnson knew the feeling. His own brother had been a victim of street violence just weeks earlier, shot four to five times and killed.

Johnson worried about Jurrell, he said. He saw him discouraged, and slumping.

While Jurrell credits his brother for keeping him out of trouble as a youngster, he said his brother also encouraged him when he appeared to lose his motivation after the tragedy, when Collette Burns said Jurrell “missed his brother very dearly.”

“If it wasn’t for [Jurray] keeping me out of the streets when I was younger, I could have followed in the same footsteps. He knew what he was doing wasn’t the right thing, and he wouldn’t allow me to do it,’’ Jurrell said.

“And after what happened to him, he made sure I didn’t quit. Growing up, he was one of my biggest role models. To this day, he is still a role model because he keeps his head high, and he is not down on himself for the mistakes he made in life. He’s accepted his consequences, and now he wants what’s best for me.”
A heartbroken mom observed it all.

“When Jurrell wanted to shut it down, his brother told him, ‘I’m going to be all right. But you have to stay focused. What I wasn’t able to do, you take it and run with it,’’’ Burns said. ‘Jurray said, that was Mama’s dream for us, to be a star football player. You still have your chance to do it.’”

These days, a part of Jurrell Casey feels like he’s playing for two people on the football field.
He’s stayed in regular contact with his brother, either by phone or via mail. He visits when he gets an opportunity.

Jurray Casey still offers tough love, and even critiques his kid brother’s game.

Jurrell Casey, one of the defensive leaders on a team looking to change the fortunes of a franchise that’s struggled of late, takes it all in. He said he’s thankful for his opportunity, and appreciates his good fortune even more as a result of his brother’s circumstances.

One day, Jurrell Casey is hoping he’ll be able to spend time with his brother outside a prison’s walls. Until then, he’ll continue on his own journey.

“I thank God that Jurrell was strong through it all, and stuck with it,’’ Burns said. “But I thank God for his brother, too, because Jurray always told him, ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up.’”

“Jurrell’s brother played a big part of his life, and his brother still plays a big part in his life. Even though he got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, he’s always been there for Jurrell. One day, I believe that God is going to bring him out of this.”

Until then, Jurrell Casey plans to do his best to represent his hometown, and his family. He wants to make his family proud, he said.

It’s safe to say he’ll never forget where he came from – it’s written all over him in ink.

“I don’t go a day without people asking me, ‘How’s Jurrell doing? Man, he’s done great,’’’ said Johnson, who still lives in Long Beach. “Jurrell made it. He really, really made it. But you know what? That was always his plan. Jurrell knew his destination.

“Growing up, everyone wanted to be a rapper, or go to the NBA, or do something to hit it big. Jurrell knew what he wanted to do and he stuck with it, even when things weren’t easy. To see where he is right now, it is amazing. It is truly amazing.”