WOODLAWN HILLS, California: When the Dallas Cowboys’ American Airlines charter touched down at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, signaling the arrival of the team in California for training camp at nearby Oxnard, cornerback Orlando Scandrick was some 40 miles away at his sprawling $1.75 million home in Woodlawn Hills.
He was spending a final few moments with his reality television star fiancee Andraya Michele Howard (Draya Michele) and four-month old son Jru Scandrick. He was relaxed, yet focused on making the drive north up the 101 freeway to join his teammates to start what he calls the most important season of his career.
Scandrick, 29, missed all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee during the final week of training camp.
The nine-year veteran is determined to come back better and stronger, better than in 2014 when was named the team’s defensive most valuable player.
Better than ever, he said.
“I’m ready to go,” Scandrick said. “I’m going to be smart and work myself back into this. But I’m 100 percent and I feel fantastic. There are no restrictions. My confidence is there.
“Everything I was able to do before, whether it was in the weight room or on the field, I have done it. I have done it at a better rate. I have done it at a higher efficiency. This season is my most important season. It is something I put a lot of work into. It’s been a long, long, long road. I’m excited about our team. I’m excited about going to training camp.”
The Cowboys are counting on Scandrick’s return to form, as well as his motivation to be better and hopefully boost a suspect defense that is heading into the season without three starters because of NFL suspensions.
There has been a lot of talk about the impact a healthy quarterback — Tony Romo — and receiver Dez Bryant will have on the Cowboys, considering they missed 12 and seven games, respectively, during last season’s 4-12 season.
But Scandrick’s return to the defense is just as critical to the team’s hopes for a bounce-back season.
Owner Jerry Jones compared Scandrick’s motivation to that of Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
“Orlando Scandrick was a real vital part and is part of our defense,” Jones said. “It hurt us last year not to have him. It will help us probably even more so this year. Usually players like him and Michael Irvin, if they had a setback like that and they can physically get back, they are more driven than before. He is a leader on the team.”
The word leader hasn’t always been associated with Scandrick during his time with the Cowboys, namely because of his prickly personality.
But his return from a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season because of a banned substance (Molly) consumed while on vacation in Mexico to have the best season of his career was a start.
And the way he has not only approached his rehabilitation from the knee injury, but stayed committed proved to the Cowboys that he has matured into the type of leader and playmaker they need this season.
“I think he understands that when you are a player in this league, you have windows. He knows he has a window. He wants us to win a championship,” vice-president Stephen Jones said. “I know he has a lot of confidence in himself as he should. He is all about the team. We need him.”
Scandrick acknowledges a small window in pro sports.
“I know there is a small window of my life that I’m going to get to play football,” Scandrick said. “And an even smaller window I’m going to get to play for the Dallas Cowboys. I want to seize the moment while we have a chance, while we have some good core players in their prime.”
Ironically, while Scandrick spent his last few hours before training camp at his home in California, the foundation of his return was his decision to spend all of last season in Dallas working with team rehab specialist Britt Brown.
That meant it would keep away from his fiancee and two daughters from a previous relationship, a situation that grew more complicated during Howard’s recent pregnancy.
“It was one of those things where I knew it was going to be a 12-month process,” said Scandrick, a California native who went to high school in Long Beach. “It was just a sacrifice that I had to make. I spent far less time in the state of California. It was tough. My two daughters are out here. I had a son in April. But I knew this is my livelihood.”
The adversity has seemingly stabilized what had been a publicly volatile four-year relationship with Howard, a former star of Basketball Wives LA, who also has her own clothing and swimsuit line.
Howard was there by his side during his lowest moments during the rehab process as he sat at home and watched his teammates play.
“I think we have a very passionate relationship,” Scandrick said. “Sometimes the emotions get the best of us. We let other people in. But things were starting to work their way out and we were able to work our way through things.
“Having him is a blessing. This was all about timing. The time that I got hurt, the time that she got pregnant with our son. To look back on it, it was all a blessing in disguise. Now, I’m just ready to roll.”