After his older brother was shot and killed in New Orleans almost eight years ago, Jason Weaver and his relatives decided he needed to leave the city as soon as he graduated high school to pursue both an education and a football career in college.
Weaver did, attending a community college more than 1,600 miles away. The tackle later transferred to a Football Bowl Subdivision program one state over from home, doing well enough to attain a diploma, sign in 2013 as an undrafted rookie free agent with one NFL team and latch on to the practice squad of another.
Recently, Weaver was cut loose by his team, and — life being what it is — the next club to present him with an audition for a gig in the pros was the one from the city where his brother was slain.
It gave Weaver no pause to sign onto the Saints’ expanded offseason roster Tuesday, despite the pain he has known in New Orleans. If nothing else, doing so afforded him possibilities to fulfill a promise he made when, about 11 years old, he went to a Saints home game with his aunt Kathleen Lucien, nodded at the field and told her, “I’m going to be down there.”
Lucien retorted, “What, do you want to meet a Saintsation?” And he said, “No, I want to be a football player” for the ones in black and gold.
“Now, it’s actually happening,” said Weaver, whose NFL dreams are mostly driven by his nephew, the boy his brother left behind. “It’s just good that I really have a chance to make that dream come true.”
At the time a senior football player for Edna Karr High School, Weaver did not experience the joy many people in New Orleans did Sept. 25, 2006, when the building now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome reopened for the first time since being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the Saints thrashed the Atlanta Falcons 23-3.
That day, Weaver’s 21-year-old brother Dunstan — already facing charges of possession with intent to distribute heroin, according to court records — was gunned down, reportedly in the crossfire of a drug deal at a street corner in an embattled area of the 7th Ward. A suspect was arrested, but prosecutors eventually declined to pursue a case against the man accused of murdering Dunstan Weaver, the father of a boy who was about 1.
“When we lost his brother, we made up our minds that we weren’t going to lose another one,” said Weaver’s aunt Bernadine Kelly, a retired New Orleans Police Department commander. “We worked ... to get him the opportunity to go somewhere else, to get a fresh start, to get him out of that environment in hopes that he wouldn’t fall in that same pattern.”
Jason and Dunstan Weaver grew up without their dad. Those in their lives included their mother, Rapunzel; grandmother, Dorothy, who died in 2009; and their aunts. For help, the family turned to Jason’s football coach at Karr, Jabbar Juluke (now an assistant at Louisiana Tech). Juluke hit up his contacts and linked Weaver with Arizona Western College in 2008, Kelly said.
Juluke “was a real father figure in my life, being that I never had a dad,” Weaver said. “He put me on that right path. He stayed on me about the football because he knew I had talent.”
And, at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, he was massive.
Related to nose tackle and 1982 Cincinnati Bengals second-round draft selection Emanuel Weaver, his family says, Jason thrived on the team for two years in Yuma, Arizona. He was an All-American as Arizona Western won its league and made a bowl game.
Meanwhile, Weaver minded his studies. For 2010, he enrolled at Southern Mississippi. He missed all but three games his first year with a knee injury but successfully petitioned for another season of eligibility.
In 2011 and 2012, playing right and left tackle, Weaver earned second-team All-Conference USA laurels one year and an honorable mention the other. Southern Miss in 2011 went 12-2 to win Conference USA as well as the Hawaii Bowl before a first-year coach led the team to a dismal 0-12 campaign the following season.
Having wrapped up his college career, Weaver walked across the stage as an interdisciplinary studies major. He brought the honors shawl from his commencement ceremony to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 and placed it at the graves of his brother, his grandmother and his grandfather Mose, whom Jason never met, Lucien said.
Weaver then set his sights on the NFL. He did so partially in memory of his late loved ones.
But, his aunts and mother agree, he did so largely because it’s potentially an avenue for a contract that could enable him to provide the best life possible for his brother’s boy, Dunstan Jr., now 9 and heading into fourth grade.
Weaver has never lost touch with little Dunstan, who lives with his mother but has often gone to his uncle’s games. Jason’s aunts and mother recall stories of how he insists on dropping off Dunstan at school whenever he is in town. He assists Dunstan Jr. in school projects — and reprimands him, over the phone if necessary, when he slacks off his class work or is disobedient.
“He says he’s taking the place of his brother,” said Rapunzel Weaver, whose small apartment in Algiers offers as its main decorations photos of Jason and the Dunstans — by themselves and together. “His brother is not here, so he’s going to raise his nephew.”
That’s the mindset Weaver had with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who signed him after he went undrafted in 2013. That’s the mindset he had after the Bucs waived him and he spent training camp with the Bengals. That’s the mindset he had when he was again waived and joined Miami’s practice squad only to be cut at the beginning of May.
That’s the mindset he had Thursday after completing his first series of voluntary organized team activities with the Saints, who will trim their roster from 90 players to 53 before the regular season.
Dunstan Jr. asked only one thing from his uncle: an autograph from Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
His uncle aspires to give him much more.
“I have to be a father figure to him,” Weaver said. “He watches me ... hears me talk, sees me do everything, so I have to stay positive for him.”