Cowboys rookie safety J.J. Wilcox gives his mother, who has lupus, the happiest Mother’s Day ever

Marshell Wilcox got her Mother’s Day present early. It came in the form of a phone call from Jerry Jones to her son, J.J., on April 26.

The Cowboys made the Georgia Southern safety a third-round draft pick.

“We rejoiced together,” Marshell said in a phone interview from her home in Cairo, Ga. “We have a very close relationship, and I’m going to miss him dearly. But I’m so happy for him because this was his vision. God really had favor on his life to make it where he wanted to be.”

J.J. Wilcox began eyeing an NFL career when he was in middle school. For a school assignment, he put on paper his goal of one day being where he is today.

“This is a dream come true,” said Wilcox, who donned his No. 27 jersey for the first time this weekend in the team’s rookie minicamp.

But Wilcox isn’t playing just for himself.

Marshell, 49, is on oxygen therapy, the result of scarring on her lungs. She began experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue, achy legs and coughing in 2000. She soldiered on, figuring it was the two jobs she was working that had sapped her.

She first was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic and lifelong autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue and organs. Marshell began using oxygen at night in 2008, but her breathing eventually got worse and she has required a machine full time since 2010.

She also has lung sarcoidosis, a syndrome involving abnormal collections of chronic inflammatory cells that can form as nodules in the lungs. Marshell, her body too weakened to fight, was in the hospital with pneumonia shortly before the draft.

She has been getting treatment in Tallahassee, Fla., but Marshell has an appointment at the Emory Lupus Clinic in Atlanta on Tuesday.

“I want to get her to the best treatment she deserves,” J.J. said. “She’s a strong lady, and she definitely deserves the best. I’m going to fight for her, make sure she gets it.”

Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson calls Wilcox “tough.” It is a trait, he said, that he inherited from his mother.

“She is way tougher than I am,” Wilcox said. “She had [two] kids. Then she’s been fighting this. She’s a strong young lady, man. I’m just blessed to have her in my life.”

Wilcox has played safety for only one season, spending the first three years of his college career on offense. But he made 88 tackles and had two interceptions as a senior and then impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl enough to draw 22 teams and seven secondary coaches to his Pro Day.

The Cowboys fell in love with Wilcox’s athleticism, toughness, physicality, energy and excitement, not to mention his upside. Wilcox, though, is a long way from becoming the player they think he can be.

“Light years,” Henderson said. “You have that coupled with the fact that the league he played in. He jumped into this league with only one year at the job. Then there’s just the adjustment that all rookies have. He’s got a lot to adjust to and learn.”

Wilcox insists his inexperience won’t preclude him from competing for a starting job. The Cowboys waived Gerald Sensabaugh, who started 15 games at free safety last season, and strong safety Barry Church is returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It is an open competition for the two spots, with Matt Johnson and Will Allen among the other contenders.

“I think my ability — the characteristics I have — I can contribute and hopefully turn into an NFL starting safety on Day 1,” Wilcox said.

For Marshell, that would be the Mother’s Day gift that keeps on giving.

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