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Vikings’ Jaylen Twyman returns from 2021 shooting in ‘best shape ever’

The defensive lineman was an innocent victim when he was shot four times while sitting in a car

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Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman during the team’s training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Thursday.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Drew Rosenhaus has been one of the NFL’s most high-profile agents since the late 1980s. He has negotiated over $7 billion in contracts for players.

But there is a player making a minimum salary of $705,000 this season who really has impressed Rosenhaus, Vikings defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman. Twyman missed his rookie season of 2021 after being shot four times in his native Washington, D.C., but has returned to be even stronger.

“I’ve been an agent for 35 years, and this is one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen,” Rosenhaus said.

Twyman has turned heads in training camp with his strength on the line and muscle-bound body. He tweeted out a photo on July 19, his 23th birthday, that looked as if it were taken at a bodybuilding event. His personal trainer, Sean Washington, said Twyman recently bench-pressed 470 pounds, 15 pounds more than his personal best before the shooting.

When the Vikings open the preseason at Las Vegas on Sunday, Twyman will take the field for a game for the first time since the shooting incident. It actually will be his first game since 2019, when he was at the University of Pittsburgh, and before he opted out of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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You had better believe Twyman can’t wait to hit somebody on the Raiders.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “I’ve got to be poised and under control with my emotions.”

Twyman last played in a game Dec. 26, 2019, when Pitt defeated Eastern Michigan, 34-20, in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. He finished that season with a team-high 10½ sacks and was a regarded as a solid pro prospect

Twyman took 2020 off because he wanted to help his family. He was raised with three brothers by his mother, Stephaine Twyman, in what Pitt assistant head coach and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge called a “tough area.”

“Once you declare for the draft and stuff, you get a signing bonus (from an agent) and Panini (trading) cards (money), all of that stuff that every pre-draft guy gets,” Twyman said. “I wanted to help my mom and my (two) little brothers at home.”

Innocent bystander

Twyman trained for the draft and was selected by Minnesota in the sixth round on May 1, 2021. But the following month, his season was derailed in an instant.

Twyman was visiting relatives in Washington on June 21, 2021, when he was sitting in a vehicle. Suddenly, shots rang out and Twyman, an innocent victim, was hit four times.

“I don’t even remember it, it’s such a blur,” Twyman said. Immediately after being shot, he blacked out.

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“It was unfortunate,” he said, “but I can’t dwell on the past.”

Twyman was one of four people shot. All survived. Still, early reports of the incident led some to deep concern. That includes Washington, who began training a 14-year-old Twyman in Washington, D.C., and relocated to South Florida two years ago to run his Monster Maker fitness company.

“I was traumatized,” Washington said. “I was scared as hell. I thought he was dead. I got a call and somebody told me he was shot up.”

Washington eventually reached family members, then Twyman. He learned Twyman had suffered only flesh wounds, and there was optimism he would be able to continue his football career.

“I always kept my faith in God and stuff like that,” Twyman said. “Once they said that it was flesh wounds, I figured that it’ll be a grind process, and it still is. But I’m happy to be present today.”

'A certain level of hunger'

Twyman was able to report to Vikings training camp on July 25, 2021, but missed the entire season while on the non-football injury list.

After the season, the 6-foot-2 Twyman headed to Tamarac, Fla., to work out with Washington, 56, a former Rutgers cornerback who went to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys in 1988 before being cut. At the time, in February, Twyman weighed about 330 pounds, nearly 40 more than his desired playing weight.

Washington’s wife, Lakisha Carney, a nutritionist, put Twyman on a low-carb, high-protein diet. And Washington worked with Twyman on the Westside Barbell method, founded by Louie Simmons, who was known as the “Godfather of Powerlifting” and died last March at age 74.

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“He came back with a certain level of hunger,” Washington said. “To be shot and not be able to play and have to watch other guys do their thing, it gives you more incentive to work even harder.”

Starting in February, Twyman’s workouts with Washington were two-hour sessions four and six days a week.

“We did a lot of sled dragging, a lot of benching and squatting with chains and bands,” Washington said. “It’s a lot of dynamic work, speed work on the squats, the bench, and then we do a lot of accessory work. Just high volume, isolate individual muscles.”

Twyman dropped more than 20 pounds and toned his body before reporting for Vikings spring drills April 11 at the TCO Performance Center. When those drills ended June 8, Twyman said he weighed 305 pounds.

But the work wasn’t done. Twyman went back to Florida to continue training with Washington, and by the time he reported to training camp July 24, he was a solid 291 pounds, which he considers his ideal playing weight.

“All of that is a credit to my personal trainer and his wife for getting my body ready for training camp,” Twyman said. “I’m a lot stronger from when I got injured last year. I was at my weakest point then as far as in the weight room, and to get all the way back and to exceed that, it’s been a pretty good look on me. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.”

Less finesse

Before Twyman showed up for training camp, many teammates had seen the July 19 tweet in which he posed alongside Raekwon Davis, a Miami Dolphins defensive tackle, and Ken Crawley, a San Francisco 49ers defensive back, fellow workout partners under the direction of Washington. The tweet has gotten more than 1,400 likes.

Twyman wrote in the tweet that he was “getting some work in … on my birthday.” He later said it was his final summer day of training with Washington before heading back to Minnesota and he was excited about reaching a desired weight goal.

“He’s big,” Vikings edge rusher D.J. Wonnum said of that photo. “He looks good.”

Vikings defensive linemen Patrick Jones II, Armon Watts and Esezi Otomewo didn’t need to see the photo to know how buff Twyman was before the start of training camp. They had been in Florida to see firsthand his continued development.

Jones, who played with Twyman at Pittsburgh and was a third-round pick by Minnesota in 2021, has worked out with Twyman during much of the year under Washington. And after the conclusion of spring drills, Watts and Otomewo, a rookie from the University of Minnesota, also joined the workout group.

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“They saw (Twyman’s) body and they said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Washington said. “He told them and they wanted to give it a shot and see what it’s all about.”

Jones said that at training camp, “everybody’s looking at” how Twyman has built up his body.

With preseason play getting underway, it will be seen how Twyman can translate what he’s done in the weight room to game action.

Washington, who called Twyman “stronger and better than he’s ever been,” wants him to use more “bull rush” techniques and less of the “finesse game” he had at Pitt.

Twyman is listed as third team on Minnesota’s depth chart at defensive end, but he could help himself in the three-game preseason.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “He’s had some real productive days. He’s one of those guys I’m really looking forward to kind of see how he does in live game action throughout the preseason.”

Rosenhaus said Twyman “deserves a lot of credit” for what he has overcome.

“He never gave up and kept fighting,” Rosenhaus said. “He nearly died. But with unrelenting determination, he worked his way back to not only recover but actually get stronger. He’s a remarkable young man.”

The NFL doesn’t hand out its annual awards until just before the Super Bowl in February, but Washington already is touting Twyman for one accolade.

“I told him he should be the Comeback Player of the Year,” Washington said.

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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