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Quandre Diggs origin story: A mother's son, a brother's brother, a man of his own
From seeing the NFL Draft stage at age 9, Diggs had high expectations of himself from the very beginning: Seaside Joe 1577
I have something in common with Quandre Diggs: We both have half-brothers who are 13 years old than we are. I know what it’s like to have someone who is sort of a go-between of being a dad age and being a brother, and I always thought of my half-brother as the epitome of what it was to be a guy’s guy.
No, he wasn’t one of the NFL’s highest-drafted corners in history, like Quandre’s half-brother. But my brother Tony was/is still a pretty cool dude.
Almost a decade before Jaxon Smith-Njigba became one of the best high school players in the history of Texas, Quandre Diggs was a four-star cornerback recruit in the same state, but separated by 300 miles. To put that in perspective, it’s about 15 miles less than the distance between Seattle and Pullman. But by Texas standards, 300 miles and 10 years is like a younger brother who lives two houses over.
And Diggs knows a lot about the brotherhood of Texas football.
Now Diggs and JSN are teammates on the Seattle Seahawks, each an important part of Pete Carroll’s belief that this roster could help take the franchise all the way to the Super Bowl. I’ve been working on an extensive deep dive into how Jaxon Smith-Njigba made it to the Seahawks as a first round pick as an all-time great out of Rockwall, Texas.
In episode 1,577 of Seaside Joe, I’ll go even further back in time—and souther deep in Texas—for the origin story of Quandre Diggs. Consider supporting us with either a free or paid subscription today so you don’t miss a single edition!
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The mid-point: Diggs as a college recruit
All movies have a mid-point, a moment when something monumental to the story happens (it will either be something very good or very bad that happens to the protagonist) and it is always literally in the middle of the movie. If you’re watching a two-hour movie, no matter the genre, I guarantee something major happens at the one-hour mark.
Origin stories have a midpoint too. I like to try to find it and work our ways backwards and forwards from there.
Diggs was a four-star cornerback recruit in 2011, ranked only behind Malcolm Mitchell, Marcus Roberson, and Damian Swann by Rivals at his position that year. I’ve always liked keeping track of highly-ranked recruits and “where are they now?” because a) they’re almost always “not in the NFL” now and b) that gives fans more perspective of how difficult it is to make a single dollar playing football.
At least college players have an opportunity to get paid that Diggs and thousands of others didn’t because NILs did not exist until two years ago, but only a percentage of a single percentage will get paid by an NFL team.
Roberson was the only one of those players to reach the NFL, playing in 32 games with six starts between 2014-2016. Further down the cornerbacks list, I recognize names Blake Countess, Justin Coleman, Jalen Collins, and Marcus Peters. That’s out of 65 prospects.
Diggs was also the fifth-ranked recruit out of Texas and on that list I notice running back Malcolm Brown (5-star, top-ranked player in the state), Jace Amaro, Ty Montgomery, Johnny Manziel, Eric Rowe, Le’Raven Clark, Jay Ajayi, and Trevone Boykin. That’s out of 100 players. And they’re mostly just names that I recognize, not necessarily players who succeeded in the NFL.
So take all of the corner recruits and all of the players in Texas for a single year and what we’re left with a decade later is maybe two or three successful NFL players and Diggs, the best or second-best, isn’t even a cornerback anymore.
Please—even if you are GREAT at football and you’re in high school or college—have a backup plan.
Diggs has done the unthinkable and survived this long to make enough money to be set for life. But it didn’t come without a lot of bumps on the road from his time as a highly-ranked Texas recruit to now, or without needing to put in the work to get there in the first place, so let’s take a step back.
Quandre Diggs gets (very) early taste of NFL success
Diggs is one of the youngest (if not the youngest) NFL player in the history of the league to be on the NFL Draft stage. He was nine.
In 2002, Diggs walked onto the stage to congratulate older half-brother Quentin Jammer after he got drafted fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers. Maybe there are players who got on stage when their father was drafted who eventually reached the NFL, I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine many nine-year-olds have walked onto that stage and then reached the league themselves 13 years later.
Maybe even more remarkable, Jammer wasn’t even Diggs’ first relative to be drafted! And Diggs is not the first member of his family to play for Seattle.
Two years earlier, cousin Cedric Woodard was a sixth round pick by the Baltimore Ravens out of Texas. As some of you already know, Woodard never played for the Ravens; he was picked up by the Seahawks and started 29 games at defensive tackle from 2003-2004.
But before he had two family members in the NFL, the most famous athlete from his household in his hometown may have been his mother.
The most famous local athlete in the family: Quandre and Quentin’s mom
In a 2019 interview that the team posted three weeks before trading him to the Seahawks, which seems like the most Lions PR move in history, Diggs talks about his childhood and his mother’s reputation as a local basketball star in a town of 20,000 people.
“Honestly, really and truly, my mom is probably more popular in my hometown than me and my brother,” says Diggs. “They don’t say ‘That’s Quandre’, they say, ‘That’s Jan’s boy.’ That’s what everybody calls me, “That’s Jan’s baby boy right there.’”
Diggs’ mother, Jan Hayes, known then as Jan Diggs, led Angleton high to a 29-1 record and a state championship in 1973 when she was only a junior, beating Canyon 57-55 in the title game. She scored 21 points in the previous win, and then a team-high 25 points in the championship game…
A year earlier, as a sophomore, Jan scored 21 points in a loss to powerhouse Canyon (they won the state title the year before and after Angleton’s win over them), proving her prowess as a dominant scorer on the court.
Jan Diggs tore her ACL as a senior, but her title as the best athlete in the household remains intact.
At some point in her life, Jan met Roland Hayes, Quandre’s stepfather, as Diggs says his real father “wasn’t in my life”. But instead, Diggs almost had two father figures: Roland and Quentin. There’s not a lot of information I can find on Jammer’s childhood, most stories just like back to Quandre, but what’s clear is that Quandre’s older brother was very much involved with raising him. In an interview with Chron.com, Diggs’ called his brother a “superhero”.
Who has been the biggest influence on your success and why?: I’d say two people. My brother (Quentin Jammer) is one of them. He’s like a superhero to me. He’s done a lot of things that I want to do, and he gives me advice and helps me whenever I need it. The other would be my mom (Jan Hayes). I know without my mom, there wouldn’t be me. She’s one of the strongest women in this world.
By the time Diggs was 5-years-old, his older brother was already getting ready to attend UT-Austin as one of the top recruits in the country. Jammer was named on the same state all-star team that year as future Chargers teammates Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson. So you can imagine how in awe you would be of a family member who is being lauded as a football star at the same time that one of your cousins is also close to realizing his NFL dreams.
Despite a 13-year age gap, and in part because of that difference since they weren’t in competion with one another, Quandre calls the bond between him and Quentin as “unbreakable” in that Lions interview:
“My role model. Older brother. The relationship that me and him have is unbreakable. He’s somebody that I want to be like and continue to strive to be. I think I want to do everything he did. If I saw him riding a car, nodding his head to music, I was nodding my head to music. If he did something on the football field on Friday night, I tried to do it in the little league game or my backyard. Everything he did I wanted to do, and it had something to do with football but I always was like ‘When I get older, I hope things will be like that.’”
“I’m not going to be the soft one in the family”
With a football lineage like that, having two family members playing at Texas by the time he was old enough to be aware of this world, the game was as deeply ingrained in Quandre as a kid as eating Lucky Charms or riding bikes. As told by his stepfather Roland, Diggs would ask him to throw the ball around every day when he got home from work.
Hayes would stand on one side of the house, ball in hand, as Diggs would sprint from behind the home into the open yard. When Diggs came into the clear, Hayes would fire a pass at his son from 5 or 10 yards away.
Occasionally, especially when Diggs was young, the ball would ricochet off his chest and send him running inside to his mom.
“He’d be crying and go in there and tell his mom, ‘Daddy throwing the ball too hard,’ ” Hayes recalled this week. “I said, ‘Well, you better get your hands up and catch it. It won’t beat you up.’ ”
In a 2015 interview with The Detroit News, Diggs doesn’t shy away from admitting that he took some hard hits to the face while doing those drills with his stepfather, who he also cites as a very important role model in his life. But rather than give up, he fell in love with the sport.
"My dad, as soon as he got off work," Diggs said, "we had a little drill we would do. … I'll be running from the side of the house and he'll be behind the house and just throwing the football. and I wouldn't know where it was coming. So, that kind of helped me with my catching ability and things like that."
"If I catch it, I catch it, and if I don't, you're going to be hit in the face. It was just one of those things. That kind of rubbed off on me and made football important to me."
"I'm not going to be the soft one in the family," he said.
Hayes wasn’t the only one playing catch with Quandre and teaching him through hard knocks and tough love. Jammer recalled doing the same, with these backyard games starting around the time Quandre was five or six, in an interview with Austin American-Statesman in 2011.
"You could never find him without a football," Jammer said this week from San Diego. "Growing up, it was life for him."
Rarely does a kid get to juggle being in elementary school at the same time as he’s hanging out with college football players and learning the ropes from Division-I stars, but that was the case for Quandre Diggs, not only next to his brother but also with some of Quentin’s teammates. At 8, Quandre would regularly play video games against Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, now a veteran college coach.
All well before he got to high school, Diggs had the opportunity to watch his brother play at Texas, become a first-team All-American in 2001, and be the fifth overall selection in the 2002 draft, joining Brees and Tomlinson as cornerstones of the Chargers franchise. Diggs would get to see his brother playing with the likes of Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, probably only amplifying his desire and commitment to be just like his childhood hero.
Ironically enough, the biggest criticism of Jammer as a top-five pick at cornerback was often his lack of interceptions; but for Diggs, his ball-hawking abilities would become his most important calling card.
Quandre the Quarterback and Qick Returner
Despite his defensive legacy and current status as a top-ranked NFL safety, Diggs was maybe more known for what he could do with the ball in his hands on offense and special teams as a star player for the Angleton Wildcats.
According to his Texas bio, Diggs was a four-year starter with impeccable stats in all three phases of the game: 8,265 all-purpose yards, 83 touchdowns through a combination of passing, rushing, and receiving. As a kick returner, another 11 touchdowns. And on defense, 10 interceptions, 52 pass breakups, 11 forced fumbles, and four pick-sixes. He was also credited with three blocked kicks for scores.
Diggs was a first-team all-state kick returner, a second-team all-state defensive player, and a unanimous district MVP. Even as a sophomore at Angleton, Diggs was his district MVP on offense and defense and the special teams player of the year.
Though there’s more glory in scoring, Diggs would take pride in his defense and especially in proving people wrong if they thought he was too small to pack a punch.
A high school quarterback and safety, Diggs said he learned early on how to use something some saw as a negative – his size – to his advantage.
His powerful legs allow him to quickly close on plays in front of him that others can’t, and because he’s naturally lower than most ball carriers, he’s able to play from underneath his pads in a big way.
“I pride myself on tackling,” Diggs said. “I always hear about people talking about he gave up a catch here and there. But if it’s third-and-8 and I give up a 4-yard catch and we get off the field and I make the tackle, it doesn’t matter if I gave up a catch, it matters that we got off the field. A lot of the backlash and things, I just ignore it and I go on about business and pride myself on tackling and getting a guy down.”
Diggs set out to carry himself “like a real boss”, just like his nickname-sake Nino Brown, Wesley Snipe’s character from the movie New Jack City. Though Diggs told Freep in 2017 that the nickname is “nothing serious”, but he won’t say when it originated.
“I like Nino’s swagger,” Diggs said. “He has great swagger. He carried himself like a real boss. You guys know me, I carry myself well and I’m a very confident guy, so that’s kind of why I reference it. It’s nothing serious, it’s just a nickname that a few people call me.”
Diggs declined to say how he got the nickname or who bestowed it upon him originally, but teammates have called him "Nino" for some time.
"It's just, that’s me," Diggs said. "That’s kind of my alter ego. I teeter and tatter a little bit, I’m on edge all the time. Like I say, it’s always business, it’s never personal. I talk trash on the field, guys talk to me, but at the end of the day, it’s never personal. I’m just in one of those zones and sometimes I just flip that switch."
That hard-hitting Nino-sized mentality helped Diggs become a top-five recruit in the state of Texas in 2011 and it was a no-brainer that he would choose UT over the likes of Alabama and Arkansas. The person credited with recruiting him?
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Longhorns, Longer Legacy
Though Diggs was The Chronicle’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, an elite return specialist, and a safety who referred to himself as a guy who admired the likes of Sean Taylor and Ed Reed, Quandre was recruited to play cornerback at the next level. He graduated early to get a headstart at Texas in 2011, where he would be coached by secondary coach Duane Akina, the very same person who worked with his brother Quentin almost a decade earlier.
“He’s really grown up in a high profile football family,” Akina said. “He has been around high quality football, so he knows how to prepare, he knows how to train in the off-season. He’s worked out with the best in the world, so he’s not intimidated by anything. For him to come in and learn as quickly as he has is really something.”
Diggs had huge shoes to fill at Texas, which is fitting for the “Everything bigger” state. He’d have no problem filling them, posting eight interceptions in his first two seasons, but his road between then and with the Seahawks now would take more turns than anyone expected.
Since we are at the e-mail size limit of this article now, I will split this origin story into two posts. Make sure you are subscribed to Seaside Joe—and share us with other Seahawks fans, including Nino—so you don’t miss it!