GREEN BAY, Wis. — Johnny Jolly wouldn’t put a number on it, but the Green Bay Packers’ recently reinstated defensive lineman gained a lot of weight over the past three years. Staying in NFL game-ready shape didn’t seem too important while experiencing the legal problems that put an extended pause on Jolly’s football career.
Jolly’s future had a very bleak outlook in November 2011 when a Texas judge sentenced him to six years in prison following multiple drug arrests. It seemed almost impossible for Jolly to ever step on an NFL field again, so the already-large 325-pounder allowed his weight to climb well beyond that.
“I was big,” Jolly said, now back with the Packers for the first time since January 2010. “I was just big. Being out three years and not really doing too much, I mean, what else would you expect? I guess it was eating the wrong foods.”
Jolly is now on the right track. He was released from prison in May 2012 for “shock probation” after serving only six months, was reinstated by the NFL in March 2013 and was then invited by the Packers to resume his career in Green Bay.
He also lost a lot of the weight he’d put on in prison and during his trials.
“It was just hard work and dedication and eating right,” Jolly said Sunday in the locker room. “(Packers strength and conditioning coordinator) Mark Lovat gave me a diet plan that I should go by and I went with it. I worked out every day and it all fell off. So I’m here today, good shape, the team likes what weight I’m at, likes the shape I’m in, so we’re going to roll with it.”
It’s not as if Jolly completely stopped working out between January 2010 and March 2013, but it wasn’t the regimen of a player who expected to ever regain the title of Professional Athlete.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Jolly said. “I was suspended and didn’t know when I was coming back, and I had to do other things outside of my life with football at the time, so once I got that straight, I was able to work out.”
Jolly had another recent change in his life. As of last week, he’s now a husband. Jolly married his girlfriend Voniecia — a woman he met in 2010 after being suspended by the NFL — in Houston before flying to Green Bay for training camp.
“She stays on my ass,” Jolly said.
She’s not the only one supporting Jolly as he attempts to turn his life back around. Jolly’s had support from his mother, a few teammates, as well as former NBA player and coach John Lucas II.
“You don’t want to ever let your peers down,” Jolly said. “I felt like I let my team down before (and) I don’t want to do that again. I let my family down before, I let myself down before, and I’m just trying not to go back down that road.
“Like I say, this is family here, (but) no one has to look after me like I’m a child. I’m a grown man. I do the right thing, I don’t think about doing the bad thing, and I stay focused and put my faith in God. That’s all I can do.”
Jolly’s seen great improvements in his life recently, but a spot on the Packers’ regular-season roster is far from guaranteed. Green Bay selected two defensive linemen in each of the past two drafts and has enough talent at the position to get by without Jolly.
While Jolly is being given a chance to make the team, he’s thought about what to do next if the Packers decide they don’t want a 30-year-old who’s three years removed from football.
“Man, I’ve got to live my life,” Jolly said. “I might go back to school, finish getting a degree and just continue living my life. My faith is right here, so I’m just going to deal with it like that, how it comes.”
Jolly, who attended Texas A&M before becoming Green Bay’s sixth-round pick in 2006, is approximately 20-25 credits away from earning his Bachelor’s Degree.
“My path is fine,” Jolly said. “I wouldn’t say that I need (football), but I love the sport, so I want to play. I’ve been through so much stuff, it’s made me a better person, a wiser person and there’s things in life you just have to go through and learn from and I’m a better man from it now. I’m just going to keep rolling with it.”
Jolly isn’t ready to give up on football yet, though. Instead of currently serving Month 20 of a 72-month prison stay, he’s back playing the game that he loves and is being given an opportunity by the Packers that he never thought he’d have.
“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 same team that you were drafted to? Man, that’s a blessing from God. The whole time I was suspended, I had faith I would be back in this position, and I just kept trying to do the right thing.
“Not saying it was perfect, the way I’ve done it, but I’ve done most of the right things and I’m back in this situation. I thank God for that, I thank the Packers organization and it’s just a blessing.”