Thin, messy red letters are written across the back of Jay Bromley’s gray and white practice gloves.
“Be great,” reads the left. “Humble,” the right.
The gloves serve as reminders to Bromley. Not only of where he came from, but of who got him here. Of who he’s still playing for, and what lies ahead.
More than anything, though, the gloves are reminders to live up to a certain standard of behavior. One that Flushing (N.Y.) High School defensive line coach Rudy Alvarellos inspired him to inherit.
“He just taught me everything I knew,” Bromley said. “Be humble. Regardless of my situation. Regardless of how many plays I make. Regardless of what people think of me. Regardless of the accolades I get.
“Because just like that,” Bromley said, snapping his right fingers, “it can get taken away.”
Drew Osumi | Staff Photographer
Bromley speaks from the heart. His biological mother abandoned him when he was 3 months old. His father was charged with murder when he was 5 months. His grandmother, who took care of him for the first 13 years of his life, died the summer before he started high school, and Rudy, the closest thing he had to a father figure in life, died in February.
Yet you’ll be hard pressed to find Bromley without a smile. The once violent teenager who became so enthralled in his rage that he would “black out,” is probably the cheeriest, bubbliest player on this year’s Syracuse team.
“Football just gave me the opportunity to channel my anger into something positive,” Bromley said.
As a captain, he exudes the exact traits Rudy always preached to him — humility and helping others — and five games into this season, the senior defensive tackle is tied for 10th in the country with five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
But to truly understand how far he’s come, you need to know where he started.
Drew Osumi | Staff Photographer
When Frances Nimmons got the call, she sprinted out of her Brooklyn home, into her car and sped east toward Jamaica. A baby had been abandoned at an elderly women’s house across the street from her friend’s house. They thought it might be her brother James Jones’ 3-month-old son Jason.
Twelve miles later, Nimmons turned onto 109th Street and saw her friend pointing from the right side of the road at the white house across the street.
Nimmons pulled her car up on the left side of the street, hurried out the door and rushed to ring the doorbell as cars backed up behind her.
When Nimmons rang the door, the woman answered.
“Do you know Tyreine?” she asked, referring to the baby’s mother.
“Yes,” Nimmons responded.
“Well if you don’t do anything, the baby don’t get nothing. I called (child services). They’re on their way.”
Nimmons scooped Jason up and told the woman she was his aunt, scampered back in her car and turned on the ignition.
As she was pulling away, an Administration for Children’s Services car pulled up.
“They would’ve taken the baby. Abandonment,” Nimmons said. “That’s how Jason stayed out of the system.”
Jay Bromley was born on May 28, 1992, to Jones and Tyreine Bromley. One month after Tyreine abandoned her child following her breakup with Jones, Frances and her husband, Roy, were granted legal custody.
One month after that, Jones was convicted of murder and imprisonment, and sentenced to 25 to life in prison.
Jones tied Shirley Ross, mother of his first child and high on crack cocaine, to their basement radiator. He locked the door on his way out to prevent her from taking more crack.
But when Jones came back later that night, Ross was dead. She suffered a heart attack, and was unable to get help.
“He thought he was doing the girl a favor,” Nimmons said.
So Bromley, with a father on the verge of imprisonment and a mother often out getting high, was taken in by Frances and Roy Nimmons. Mom and Dad to him.
Courtesy of Frances Nimmons
Every night for the first 13 years of his life, Bromley slept with his grandmother in her queen bed in the Nimmons’ home.
As an infant, Bromley worked through his inborn addiction to crack cocaine. He cried constantly and suffered from a testicular hernia until it was surgically removed when he was 6 months old, Frances Nimmons said.
Bromley remembers his grandmother filling a tub with cold water and making him sit in it until the pain passed.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Bromley said. “I just knew that it hurt.”
But any time anything hurt or anything was wrong, Grandma was there. She bought Bromley his first basketball hoop and basketball, football and sneakers. She inspected his wardrobe each morning, and made sure his hair never grew too long.
Kay Frances Jones had been given just one son out of her four children. And he went to jail for murder.
Bromley was her second chance.
“They used to do everything together,” Nimmons said. “She spoiled him rotten.”
His grandmother was one of Bromley’s biggest supporters when he planned to join Flushing’s football team as a freshman.
But when she died, he almost quit.
“It was hard,” Bromley said. “I was thinking about her at the time and it was just like, ‘Man, do I really want to put myself through this?’”
Bromley was so upset, he had to write Nimmons a letter about considering quitting rather than talk about it. He left the note on her night table.
The next day, Nimmons said she would come to every game and take Bromley out for food afterward.
One month into the season, quitting never crossed his mind again.
Courtesy of Flushing High School
After two years at center, Bromley moved to defensive end in his junior year, and unknowingly enrolled in Rudy’s life-coaching class.
Rudy spent plenty of time instructing pass rush moves, but Rudy also took Bromley and other linemen out to dinner or the beach.
“Rudy gave me somebody to talk about it and make sure that I release my stress and things like that in a positive nature,” Bromley said.
One highlight that Bromley and Joel Moronta, another Flushing defensive lineman, both point to is their trip to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem and the New York Jets-Buffalo Bills game on Oct. 18, 2009.
It was the first in-stadium game Bromley ever attended.
They sat on the top row of the stadium. “Cold as hell,” Moronta described the rainy afternoon, as all four kept their hands stuffed into their jacket pockets between hot chocolate breaks.
For his last two seasons at Flushing, Bromley spent almost every day with Rudy. On weekdays they were player and coach, but on weekends they were more. Father and son, almost.
Rudy would pick up Bromley every morning and drop him off at night. When Bromley couldn’t afford cleats before his senior season, Rudy bought him a pair of new, black Nikes.
“It was like Jason was his son,” Nimmons said. “Nothing was too good for Jason.”
On the field, Bromley garnered a verbal offer from Stony Brook and interest from Syracuse, Rutgers and Penn State. The boy who Flushing head coach Jim DeSantis remembers joining the team as “more fat than muscle” grew into one of the best players in New York City.
Off the field, Bromley gradually found solace. He stopped fighting and started focusing on landing a scholarship. When his father was released from prison seven and a half years early, it didn’t affect him.
But as he worked on improving his SAT score, Stony Brook backed off. Heading into the Empire Challenge, a postseason all-star game, Bromley had no offers. He was expected to play at New Hampton, a prep school in New Hampshire.
“The thing that bugs me the most is Syracuse actually had this film,” DeSantis said. “I was told they thought he moved a little bit too slow and that he didn’t move well enough to be their level of player.”
That changed after Bromley dominated the Empire Challenge. Two sacks. Seven tackles. Three for loss.
Syracuse offered the next day.
Adjusting to life at Syracuse wasn’t too difficult for Bromley. He added 53 pounds between the end of basketball season at Flushing and the start of SU training camp in August 2011, and gained complete control of his temper. His anger was replaced by laughter.
Like when teammate Marquis Spruill joked about Bromley nakedly parading through their University Village apartment on his 21st birthday. All Bromley could do was laugh.
He’s focusing his spare time on helping others — like Rudy helped him.
Staying after practice to work with younger linemen. Making sure everyone has a ride to team events. Even cleaning up the locker room.
It’s why Bromley returns to Flushing regularly whenever he’s home. Why he talks to each high school student who will look at him thinking, “If he can make it out, we can, too.”
“There’s not a more human person that I know on this team,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “He’s as real as real gets.”
Courtesy of Flushing High School
Seven times Bromley and Moronta visited Rudy in the hospital. He spent most of 18 months there as a toe infection and allergic reaction to his antibiotic turned into kidney failure and heart problems.
The last visit came in mid-January when Bromley brought a Pinstripe Bowl victory football signed by the entire Syracuse team.
Yet when they walked in to talk to Rudy, the first thing he wanted to know was how they were doing. Just like always.
Rudy went into a coma in early February, and was taken off life support on Feb. 13.
“I had just seen him. I had just seen him,” Bromley said pleadingly. For a while, the death seemed surreal.
But during training camp this summer, Bromley ordered a “RUDY” sticker for the back of his helmet. Then he took out a red sharpie and wrote Rudy’s two pieces of advice on his practice gloves.
Through five games, Bromley said he’s surpassed everything he’s done in the past three years. Facing frequent double teams, he’s made a case that he can compete with the nation’s best.
Great, and humble.
This season, Bromley says, is for Rudy.
“I really just want to play for him as much as possible.”