Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly runs through drills Saturday. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Johnny Jolly got married last Monday and three days later reported to Green Bay Packers training camp.
A long, romantic honeymoon will have to wait while Jolly attempts to resume his football career.
He met his new wife, Voniecie, three years ago after getting slapped with an NFL suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. The couple has stayed together through one of the most difficult periods of Jolly’s life, when he squandered millions of dollars and got thrown in jail.
When asked if Voniecie helped him through the ordeal, Jolly replied: “Oh yeah, she stays on my (butt).”
It’s yet another step forward in the transformation of Jolly, who is attempting to hold himself accountable and take responsibility for his life.
“No one has to look after me like I’m a child,” said Jolly on Sunday in the Packers’ locker room. “I’m a grown man and like I said, I do the right thing and don’t think about doing the bad thing and stay focused and put my faith in God. That’s all I can do.”
The Packers defensive lineman, who hasn’t played an NFL game since January 2010, knows he let a lot of people down.
“You don’t want to never let your peers down,” Jolly said. “I feel like I let my team down before, I don’t want to do that again. I let my family down before, I let myself down before. I’m just not trying to go back down that road.”
It’s believed Jolly ballooned to nearly 400 pounds during his suspension. “I was big,” Jolly said.
He developed better eating and workout habits and shed a lot of pounds. He wouldn’t reveal his weight, although he’s listed at 325 on the roster.
“The team is happy with my weight, I’m happy with it,” Jolly said. “I’m moving good. I’m good at where I’m at.”
Jolly is also in a good place mentally. He is a humbled man who seems genuinely grateful to be back in Green Bay with a chance to resume his football career.
“I’m so happy,” Jolly said. “I mean, I don’t know many guys that get a second chance, but a second chance back to the team that you were drafted to, that’s a blessing from God. The whole time that I was suspended I had faith that I would be back in this position. I just kept trying to do the right thing.”
Jolly hasn’t lost his trademark mean streak. During the Packers’ first padded practice Sunday, he was at times disruptive along the line and also found himself in the middle of a couple skirmishes.
“He brings some of that nastiness to the defense over there, brings some swagger over there to the defensive line,” said Packers receiver James Jones. “It’s good to see him back. I am definitely rooting for him.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said over the weekend Jolly is off to a good start at camp, but he plans to limit his practice snaps as a precaution.
“With Johnny, that’s where he always thrived, as an inside player and his ability to get off blocks, his instincts,” McCarthy said. “He just needs as much (work) as he can (get).”
It’s rare for a player to make a successful return after being out of the game so long. But after seeing Jolly report to camp in decent shape and hold up well in the first three days of practice, the feeling is growing that he could pull it off.
Eight-year veteran Jarrett Bush is convinced Jolly will make the team.
“Definitely, not even a (question),” Bush said. “I think he’s going to be out there making plays, no doubt.
“I really think he’s more fresh, more hungry.”
Jolly would rather not speculate on his chances or what he can bring to the line.
“I’m just one of the 90 right now,” Jolly said. “I can’t say whether I’m the one that’s going to give them the edge or not. I’m just trying to make this team just like everybody else.”
Jolly loves football and wants nothing more than to extend his career, but he’s more levelheaded now and said he could survive without the game.
“My path is fine,” said Jolly, who talked about wanting to complete his college degree. “I wouldn’t say that I need (football), but I love the sport, so I want to play and I’ve been through so much stuff. It’s made me a stronger person, a wiser person. It’s things in life that you just have to go through and learn from, and I’m a better man.”
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.