Sleeping in a car kickstarted Jose Gumbs’s path to the NFL

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Jose Gumbs beat out DeJon Gomes for his spot on the Redskins’ 53-man roster. But the safety admits that the football wasn’t in his, or his family’s, plan growing up.

Gumbs was born and raised in Brooklyn before his family moved to Queens. Both of his parents were from San Pedro de Macorís, Domincan Republic, where baseball is king. His uncle, Norberto Martin, played seven seasons in Major League Baseball. A young Sammy Sosa was a fixture at Gumbs’s grandmother’s house in San Pedro.

It was expected that Gumbs would follow in Dominican tradition and play baseball, which he did as a kid. He also played Pop Warner football, but the high school he attended in Queens didn’t have a football team, so he was forced to focus solely on baseball, much to his father’s delight.

In an effort to get a better high school education for their son, Gumbs’s parents sent him to Hebron Academy in Maine for his sophomore year, where he played both baseball and football. The football coach at Hebron started him at safety.

“They were like, ‘You know you could have a future in football, right?’” Gumbs recalled. “I was like, nah, I’m gonna stick to baseball.”

Gumbs’s coaches persisted and finally convinced him to give up baseball and focus on football.

He had a stellar high school football career, until a meniscus tear in his senior year forced him to have surgery and scared away all of the football programs that had been recruiting him. He wasn’t offered a scholarship, so Gumbs decided to go right to work when he graduated high school.

He moved back home to Queens, and went to work with his father and brother at a large bakery in New Jersey. The bakery had a policy that fathers and sons were not allowed to work the same shift, which posed a bit of a problem for the Gumbs family.

They couldn’t afford to make the 45-minute round trip more than once a day, so while their father worked the early shift, Gumbs and his brother would sleep in the car. When their father’s shift ended, the boys would work and their father would sleep in the car until it was time to all drive home together.

“We wouldn’t even see daylight, because my father would go in so early in the morning that it was still nighttime,” Gumbs said. “And there were no windows in the basement where we worked, and by the time we finished it was night again. One day I was like, ‘Damn. I haven’t seen sunlight in a week.’

“We did that for about a month or two,” he continued. “Downstairs in the factory where all the machines were at, it was 120 degrees. I sweat a lot as it is, and I’m down there shoveling chocolate into this machine and I’m like, ‘I cannot do this. I’m going to go back to school.’”

Gumbs reached out to his former Pop Warner coach, who suggested that he check out Monmouth University. The coach at Monmouth saw his highlights from high school and agreed to take him as a walk on. In order to be eligible to play, the NCAA needed his transcripts from both Hebron Academy and his high school in Queens. The school in Queens didn’t send the transcripts in time, so he had to sit out the year, as a red-shirt freshman.

Because he hadn’t seen any game action, Gumbs was concerned about missing out on a scholarship opportunity. But just before his true freshman season, he was offered a scholarship, allowing him to stay in school.

Gumbs didn’t see action as a true freshman, either, but in his sophomore year was named NEC Defensive Rookie of the Year and then NEC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. He finished his college career as a two-time All NEC selection.

“My father still sometimes is like, ‘You should have stuck with baseball,’” Gumbs said. “But he knows I did the right thing. If had given up baseball and football didn’t work out either, then I would have been mad.”

His college success came at the expense of time with his family. He stayed at school for breaks, working out to stay in shape, and spent summers working as a bouncer so he could continue his regimen.

“My mom was like, ‘Why do you never come home?’” Gumbs says. “I told her, ‘Mom, one day you’re going to see why.’”

Gumbs invited his family to attend his pro day, and it was then that his mother was able to see first-hand what he meant.

“She said, ‘I understand the sacrifices you made,’” remembers Gumbs, proudly. “That meant a lot to me, to have them see what I had worked for.”

Gumbs entered the NFL as a free agent, spent some of 2012 season on the Chiefs’ practice squad and was pick up by the Redskins in July. But he remembers what it was like in that hot bakery basement and he’s determined not to go back.

“It’s not enough for me to be able to say I made it [to the NFL],” he says. “I want to stay.”

Also on DC Sports Bog

Art Briles isn't worried about RGIII