Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery calls home every week. He wants to check in with Grandma Adell in St. Matthews, South Carolina.
Often, it’s typical talk. She wants to know whether his game is on TV and wants to make sure he’s still catching those balls.
But the moment is important.
‘‘I’ll call her two or three times a week just to hear her voice,’’ Jeffery said. ‘‘We had her 80th birthday party this offseason.’’
Jeffery’s grandmother is one of the most important people in his life.
‘‘That’s where I get my personality,’’ Jeffery said.
It’s a personality he revealed during a 25-minute interview with the Sun-Times. He is one of the Bears’ most important players, but little is known about him because of his quiet, private nature.
This season is undeniably huge for Jeffery, who was voted a team captain for the first time. One of the NFL’s best receivers, he is playing out the year on the franchise tag. A big payday is coming.
Unlike other big-name receivers, though, Jeffery avoids the spotlight. Those close to him at Halas Hall describe him as humble, soft-spoken and laid-back. But there’s so much more to him.
* * *
‘‘He’s a humble cat. Alshon is different, man. He comes from a small area in South Carolina. The humility he has, I can’t even think of another receiver to compare it to. That’s why myself and a lot of guys like him so much.’’ — Quarterback Connor Shaw, Jeffery’s teammate with the Bears and at South Carolina
* * *
Two stoplights. No Walmart. That’s how Jeffery describes his hometown of St. Matthews, which had a population of 2,021 in the 2010 census. There are Chicago-area high schools with larger populations.
‘‘Everybody knows everybody,’’ Jeffery said. ‘‘It’s a good town. Quiet. Peaceful. You try to support everybody.’’
Jeffery’s background is blue-collar. His father, Charles, worked for a lumber company before taking a job at the University of South Carolina in facilities. His mother, Deloris, worked in a factory. Jeffery is the third of four brothers. The others are Charles, Darren and Shamier.
‘‘My mom and dad used to tell me to always respect people, to give them the utmost respect because respect is going to take you further than anything,’’ Jeffery said.
With his parents working, Jeffery spent the bulk of his young life with Grandma Adell, his mother’s mother. He learned many life lessons from her, and he recites them with a smile.
‘‘Never rush things.’’
‘‘What’s going to happen is going to happen.’’
‘‘You should live your life and just enjoy it.’’
‘‘I would just see the things that she would go through and how she viewed life,’’ Jeffery said.
There were personal hardships and grief. Jeffery said his grandmother lost family members, including a son.
‘‘She always just stayed positive,’’ he said. ‘‘She would feed everyone in the neighborhood if she can.’’
Looking at Jeffery the football player, one message stands out.
‘‘She never liked anybody being loud or obnoxious,’’ he said. ‘‘She always liked to be chill and just relaxed.’’
* * *
‘‘He did a lot more listening than he did talking, but he always had that expression in his eye that he knew what you were talking about. He understood what we trying to do.’’ — Former South Carolina receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.
* * *
Jeffery’s first love was basketball, and he was a star. At Calhoun County High, his teams lost only two games in four years and won four state titles.
‘‘My town, we’re known for basketball,’’ said Jeffery, who called himself a slasher. ‘‘I can make a few shots here or there when I’m feeling it.’’
Jeffery jokingly said one of the two losses deserves an asterisk because he missed it for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, an all-star game for the best football players in the state.
On the field, it’s obvious where the basketball comes in. Few, if any, defensive backs can beat Jeffery on jump balls. But he also understands football. He’s more than a go-up-and-get-it receiver.
Spurrier Jr., who helped recruit Jeffery to South Carolina, recalls a player who spent countless hours watching film.
‘‘He wasn’t an arrogant guy,’’ said Spurrier Jr., who now works at Oklahoma. ‘‘You didn’t know exactly what he would develop into. But you knew he had a special range and a special trigger to play the game.’’
Los Angeles Rams passing coordinator Mike Groh, the Bears’ receivers coach from 2013 to 2015, also remembers Jeffery’s study habits. The difference was how he analyzed defensive backs and other receivers.
‘‘He is one of those gym-rat kind of guys,’’ Groh said.
During a recent practice, Jeffery didn’t like a red-zone concept and spoke up. He thought the Bears should do something else.
‘‘It was a really good idea,’’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. ‘‘It was a really good thought. We changed it on the field. He’s a sharp guy. As coaches, we very much respect his football knowledge.’’
As far his reliable, strong hands, Jeffery said that started in St. Matthews.
The Jeffery boys were athletes. Shamier, the youngest, followed Alshon to South Carolina as a receiver. But Charles, the oldest, is said to be the best athlete of the bunch, an absolute superstar in high school.
‘‘He used to throw balls to me so hard all the time,’’ Jeffery said. ‘‘That’s the reason why I always try to catch the ball and everything with my hands. He’d be 10 feet or not too far from me and throwing it real hard, so I had to catch it.’’
* * *
‘‘Believe it or not, Al’s a real people person, a caring person who looks out for others. If we’re out somewhere [among fans], he’ll be like, ‘Hey, man, let’s take this picture for somebody.’ Or it’s, ‘Come on, man, let’s sign something.’ ’’ — Bears receiver Josh Bellamy
* * *
The menu at Bears receivers coach Curtis Johnson’s house is Louisiana Cajun, and the mood at the frequent dinners is light. The purpose is for the players to ‘‘put their hair down,’’ Johnson said. It’s for fun.
‘‘The joke’s on me a lot,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I guess they try to impress my wife or whatever. They talk about me just like a dog.’’
And they talk about everything, especially Jeffery.
‘‘It’s a little different than some of the guys I’ve been around,’’ said Johnson, 55, a longtime coach in the NFL and college. ‘‘I can talk about whatever. We can talk about taxes. We can talk about religion. He’s smart, and then he’s down-to-earth. He can make a conversation about different subjects and different things that most guys can’t or won’t.’’
What is Jeffery into?
As far as food, Bellamy said Jeffery loves the lobster tempura at Fleming’s and the cheesesteak egg rolls at Sullivan’s, though Jeffery’s diet has changed.
‘‘He used to be a fat boy, but I can’t eat with him anymore,’’ Bellamy said, laughing. ‘‘He changed up his diet. He’s been eating that crazy healthy stuff.’’
Asked about Jeffery’s home, receiver Cameron Meredith painted a picture of a simple place without much furniture or decorations. They go there to watch Netflix and play video games. NBA2K is Jeffery’s game.
It often comes back to basketball. Jeffery said he roots for the Cubs and Blackhawks, but he proudly calls himself a ‘‘die-hard’’ Bulls fan.
‘‘Both of us didn’t like LeBron [James] when he went to Miami because of how he did it,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘But when he came back to Cleveland and was down 3-1, came back and beat Golden State — and how he did it — we feel he’s one of the top-five players.’’
* * *
‘‘If it doesn’t work out this year, next year I guarantee that the Chicago Bears are going to be a totally different team. We’re going to be a hell of a lot better. Right now, we’re just in the moment.’’ — Jeffery
* * *
Shaw was a struggling, inexperienced starter, and Jeffery was the older star bound for the NFL. But Shaw remembers how Jeffery treated him at South Carolina.
‘‘When he was coming out, the negatives on him were that he didn’t really have a quarterback to get him the ball,’’ Shaw said. ‘‘But he was always so positive with me. He was right there with the growing pains. In good and bad, he was always so positive. That’s what I remember about Alshon.’’
That’s Jeffery as a captain in a nutshell.
Jeffery might be quiet, but his positive outlook connects with others.
‘‘Honestly, sometimes you never know what you’re going to get,’’ Meredith said. ‘‘But it’s going to be good because he’s always in a good mood.’’
Jeffery’s approach is St. Matthews-simple.
‘‘I want people around me to enjoy life like how I enjoy life,’’ he said.
That kind of optimism matters at Halas Hall, this year or beyond.
‘‘I really believe in this team,’’ Jeffery said. ‘‘And I know this team believes in me.’’