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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2021 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 29, Washingtonfootball.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. After digging into the versatility of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and chronicling the basketball-to-football transition of Charles Snowden, we stay in the District to learn more about the arduous journey of Jaylen Twyman.
Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pittsburgh
Coming off a second-team All-American season at Pittsburgh in 2019, Jaylen Twyman was "110%" committed to coming back to school, earning his degree and improving every aspect of his game. After racking up 10.5 sacks and 41 tackles, Twyman returning to the Panthers was a scary thought for opposing ACC offenses.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and Twyman realized the responsibilities he had beyond himself. He needed to take care of his family, one that was devastated by violence as Twyman grew up in Northeast Washington, D.C. To do so, he opted out of the 2020 season to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft.
"This isn't about COVID-19," Twyman said in his Twitter post announcing the decision. "This is about my family's needs, now and in the future."
Twyman estimates he's been working out for more than 200 days straight in Florida to prepare for the three-day event that will kick off Thursday, April 29 and change the lives of hundreds of prospects.
For Twyman, hearing his name called will serve as the culmination of years of perseverance, self-assurance and the unwavering desire to reach his ultimate goal of making the NFL and providing his family with a better life.
"I'm very prideful, very humble and have a lot of humility knowing that this young man has developed into the young man that he is," H.D. Woodson high school coach Greg Fuller said about Twyman. "I had the opportunity to see him in ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade, and to see the maturity, the discipline, the responsibility, the respectfulness and the desire this young man has developed, that does a lot for me because that's the reward we get as teachers and as coaches."
Long before Twyman became a 6-foot-2, 319-pound playmaker along the interior defensive line, he was a kid growing up in the housing projects of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Football was always a constant, but so was poverty, violence and crime. When Twyman was 5 years old, his father went to jail for 10 years on drug trafficking charges.
His father got out of prison in 2014, when Twyman, then a sophomore, began to assert himself for one of the best public school teams in the District. But months before his release, Twyman's uncle was killed in a drive-by shooting less than a mile from the high school. Less than two years later, his older brother was killed in broad daylight.
"My family members, every other week, one of them deceased or one of them just in a shootout or one of them locked up," Twyman told The Washington Post in 2016. "It's just pushed me to try to get everybody, get all my family members, out of poverty. Nobody needs to be around this."
By that point, Twyman had established himself as one of the best prospects in the area with double-digit Division I scholarship offers. His size and athleticism made him difficult to block; his instincts, intelligence and bevy of moves made stopping him almost impossible.
But Twyman was also one of the team's leaders, student athletes, hardest workers and, believe it or not, jokesters. Fuller remembers an instance when he walked into his office and Twyman was sitting behind his desk with his feet up and reading glasses on the bridge of his nose -- imitating his coach's every move.
Football not only gave Twyman an outlet from his family tragedies, but also an opportunity to reimagine the futures lives of himself and his loved ones.
That chance served as his motivation as he emerged as one of the best defenders in the ACC and a legitimate NFL Draft prospect. It pushed him to forge a relationship with three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, a fellow defensive tackle and Pittsburgh Panther. He even changed his number from 55 to 97 before his redshirt sophomore season in 2019. Then, he became the first interior lineman to lead the team in sacks since Donald six years earlier.
"Because of the tragedies he faced, he knew the direction he wanted to go in and he was steadfast in that," Fuller said. "He didn't want this to end up being his type of lifestyle."
Twyman's time off from football did not prevent him from wowing professional scouts at his Pro Day. He put up 40 bench press reps of 225 pounds -- five more than Donald and nine shy of the NFL Scouting Combine record -- and posted an impressive 32.5-inch vertical considering his size. These numbers, combined with his collegiate tape, led to NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein projecting Twyman as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Regardless of where Twyman ends up, Fuller expects him to succeed. Sure, he has the skillset to compete, but it's his experience dealing with and overcoming adversity that will allow him to handle the rigors of being a professional athlete.
"He really is a good person," Fuller said of Twyman. "He will be a good fit for someone, and he will definitely be a hard worker and a disciplined, respectful, responsible football player and young man."