Katrina Salles’ last two decades have been mostly dictated by the sporting schedules of others. Saturday is a day for her.
Salles’ three sons — James Mayden Jr., Jared Mayden and Jalen Mayden — were naturally drawn to athletics: it’s the family obsession. Their father, James Mayden Sr., played basketball at Oklahoma; they have an uncle, Tyrone Washington, that was a second-round NBA Draft pick out of Mississippi State. They have cousins roughly their age playing basketball at Wayland Baptist and volleyball at Tennessee State.
The Mayden boys gravitated to football. Two of them chose schools in the SEC West.
Jared Mayden is a senior safety for Alabama and Jalen Mayden is redshirt freshman quarterback for Mississippi State. The two will share the field Saturday in a day that’s far more than the last time they will be on the same collegiate field — it’s a day of celebration for an extended family that has followed their every step.
Salles — better known in her son’s sporting circles as Momma Mayden — has spent most of the week trying to get tickets for people, coordinate travel, “who’s cooking what, all that.”
“Our family has been living by the schedule to have Friday night football games and we were all off separating to drive to that person’s game and that person’s game, over here and over there to make sure they’re all supported,” Salles told The Tuscaloosa News.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were at least 14 people planning to make the trip from the Dallas area Sachse, Texas, to Starkville for the game, and there were ongoing efforts to get more tickets. This will be no small party.
Football over all
As the family’s diverse athletic portfolio suggests, the Maydens were more than just football players.
“The boys did everything: they started out with soccer, they went from soccer to track, they went from track to football. They kept the rotation of football, basketball and track all the way up until they were in high school,” Salles said.
As Jared Mayden put it, “Sports and competition all the time.”
Then the oldest son, James Jr., started getting more attention for football. Upward mobility was most possible in football, so the family invested in training and finding the right events to showcase the boys.
This came at a time when spring and summer 7-on-7 football, particularly in Texas, was thriving, which was wonderful timing for a trio of sons made up of a wide receiver, a safety and a quarterback.
Jared had a similar moment to James Jr.’s early in high school, when he realized football was his path.
“Mine was at high school. I was on varsity as a freshman, and at my high school you didn’t really do that,” he said, and he’s right. Sachse High School — a relatively new school, opening in 2002 — has no trouble accessing talent. The school produced six power 5 signees in the last two recruiting classes, in addition to a current senior committed to Baylor.
“When I was younger I used to play basketball more than I played football, but once high school hit I had to choose. And I’m not 6-5”, so kind of an easy choice.”
Football was clearly the best option for all three of them, but it wasn’t an easy one. James Jr. ultimately transferred from Rice to New Mexico Highlands University. Jared’s playing time was limited early, tallying all of 23 tackles in his first three seasons. Jalen redshirted last year, then watched a grad transfer and freshman run Mississippi State’s offense this year.
The Mayden boys also know what to do when things aren’t easy. They learned it from their grandfather from a very young age.
Learning to battle
Donald Pierson Sr. — Salles’ father, grandfather to the Mayden trio — was a Marine in the Vietnam War. During his tour of duty he was shot in the leg, got stitched up – metal plate in his leg and all – and went back to Vietnam.
His civilian life wasn’t very civilian. He joined the Army National Guard and it was in that duty when a freak accident reset the course of his life.
Twenty-four years ago Pierson was effectively struck by lightning, when lightning hit a pole he was touching and it traveled through him. The list of medical conditions that followed is long – learning to walk and talk again, diabetes, significant loss of sight, long-term memory loss, nerve damage and more.
The Mayden boys grew up reminding their grandfather to take a litany of medicines.
“At first (doctors) said he wouldn’t live 24 hours, and when he did that they came back and said he won’t live to the end of the week, and then they came back and said he won’t live for two weeks, and two weeks turned into a month, then he won’t live three months, then six months,” Salles said.
“For Jared, he understands that sometimes you have to put in the work to get what you want. They watched their grandfather be shaky and they watched how strong my mom was, being there for him and taking care of him. He went into kidney failure, they watched him do home treatments and they were soldiers behind their Papa and their Granny. They’ve seen how, sometimes, you’re going to go through a struggle but it’s for a greater purpose if you hang on and hang in there. That’s what they know to do.”
So when it came to Jared Mayden’s wait for more playing time at Alabama, he knew how to approach it. Jared knew what he was signing up for when he picked Alabama, and he had deeply personal experiences on how to handle long stretches of hard work for little noticeable gain.
“In Jared’s case — and I don’t say it because he’s my child — he’s just a very outstanding human being, and he’s always been very logical in things,” Salles said. “He picked Alabama on purpose, and he was there for a reason. He’s very much a detail-oriented person.
“They wanted him to learn several different positions, and he seized the moment of learning those different positions. So whenever he was called to play the Dime position, or go in at Star, or come in at safety, he was not only physically prepared to play the game because of his work with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Scott) Cochran and his staff, he was mentally ready to play the game because he’s been in film study when nobody’s watching, he’s up there sitting with the coaches. He’s learning to make sure that he is prepared.”
Jared Mayden added, “Looking back on it, all the things I had to do to get to this point, I feel like it’s making me better because if something bad happens I’ve got to overcome that. When adversity comes, I’ve got to overcome it. So I feel like those lessons I learned through those first three years of not playing are really helping me now.”
In 2012, Pierson had a kidney transplant and got BK virus; the ensuing treatment cost him what was left of his eye sight. Salles estimates Pierson has been blind since 2016, but Pierson still went to football games, sitting in the stadium and listening to the radio.
Through those years, Jared and his brothers developed a tight relationship with the grandfather. He taught them all to play the piano and do so well. Jalen was asked to play at a wedding ceremony in Starkville; Jared played the piano in Nick Saban’s house on his official visit, with Terry Saban at his side, playing and singing along.
That softer side of Jared Mayden is indicative of all the brothers. Salles says she’s lucky — as a school teacher, she’s seen firsthand and heard many stories of rambunctious boys — but hers were well-behaved and good-natured, which she credited to the village of family around her. The brothers had competitive moments, of course, but they weren’t mean-spirited.
That may not be the case Saturday.
Jared Mayden said he and his brother did not aim for the SEC, much less to be in the same conference as one another. Now that it’s happened this way, he likes it.
Not for the proximity to his brother: he says he wasn’t paying much attention and didn’t realize how close Tuscaloosa and Starkville are until Jalen got to Mississippi State.
Jared Mayden has some revenge to exact.
“He used to talk trash all the time. He swears he’s like, I don’t even know, Drew Brees or something out there,” Jared Mayden said. “I said, ‘Jalen, if I ever get the chance, I’ll pick you off,’ and he said he’d truck me because he’s bigger than me a little bit.
“If I get the chance, I’m gonna hit him. Every time he wore my clothes, wore my shoes, I’m going to make him feel every single time. All that little brother stuff.”
For Salles, the proximity is a blessing. When Jalen Mayden made it known Mississippi State was his choice, she found a map and saw the two towns so close to one another. She’s attended home games at both venues on the same day twice, with help from the Mississippi State staff of being forthcoming which games Jalen would and would not play in during his redshirt season.
“I really do love both programs. I enjoy the leadership at Alabama, I enjoy the leadership at Mississippi State,” she said.
But this week is different for everyone. Jared Mayden made that known early: “I don’t plan on talking to him this week.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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