WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) — Morris Claiborne was in the middle of a walkthrough practice last summer when he got the call — finally — that he was eagerly anticipating.
It was time for his twin daughters to enter the world.
A New York Jets trainer had the cornerback’s cellphone and was tasked with letting him know if and when Claiborne’s now-wife Jennifer was heading to the hospital.
“I remember I saw the trainer walking on the field and he gave me, like, a look,” Claiborne recalled in an interview with The Associated Press at the family’s home. “I just ran. I took off running. I grabbed my phone from him and I went to Coach (Todd) Bowles and I was like, ‘Coach, it’s time,’ and he was like, ‘All right, congratulations.’
“And I remember just running out of the building and running to the hospital, and when I got up there I just looked at her.”
It was July 30, 2017, and Jennifer was 35 weeks along — two weeks before her scheduled cesarean section. But her water broke while she was watching the couple’s two English Bulldogs outside their home. She had to immediately head to Morristown Medical Center, about 2 1/2 miles away.
Meanwhile, Morris zipped from the Jets’ training facility in Florham Park to the hospital just over 3 miles away in time to be there to welcome his daughters.
“He came and it all happened within the hour,” Jennifer recalled. “It happened so fast, it was scary.”
Doctors performed the C-section and first delivered Ma’Kaila, who was quite underweight at 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
Ma’Liah came a few moments later, weighing in at a more robust 4 pounds, 13 ounces.
Ma’Kaila was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, separated from her sister — and mother — for the first time.
“I was asking, ‘Is everything OK?'” Morris said. “They were like, ‘She’s good. Everything’s good. It’s just that she’s underweight — too underweight.’ They wanted to take her back and start feeding her and try to get her to gain some weight.”
Ma’Kaila stayed in the NICU for the next two weeks, working up the strength to be sent home to her parents and sister.
For Morris, who was entering his first season with the Jets on a one-year, prove-it deal after four years with the Cowboys, it was a whirlwind of anxiety and excitement.
Somehow, he needed to keep his mind focused on football, while also wanting to make sure his wife and daughters had everything they needed while he was working.
“Oh, man,” he said, shaking his head. “We’d have meetings early in the morning and we had to stay over at the (players’) hotel, but Coach was giving me a little time to come here and stay with (Jennifer and Ma’Liah) instead of going to the hotel. I’d come (home) after meetings. We’d get done around 11 or so and I’d come here, check on her and make sure everything’s OK with her and then I’d head up to the hotel for curfew and we’d FaceTime all night.”
Claiborne’s coaches and teammates never knew of the hectic routine he was keeping throughout the summer.
Playbooks and Pampers.
Meetings and feedings.
Football and baby blankets.
“I don’t care if it was 10 minutes, I live so close to the facility that I was running home every single break to check on them and see if everything’s OK and then I’d get back to my job,” he said. “It was like that for a while, for the whole training camp. … It was chaos, but it was fun.”
Claiborne was in for the biggest surprise of all on Aug. 15 when he arrived home during a short break.
“I was like, ‘Babe, come here, look,'” Jennifer called out to him. “I was like, ‘Can you watch her real fast?’ And I was speaking of Ma’Liah.”
But she had brought Ma’Kaila home from the hospital earlier in the day and had both girls in the bed, laying them beside her with a video camera set on record to capture the moment.
“I wasn’t expecting to see both of them at all,” a wide-eyed Claiborne recalled. “I wasn’t ready for it at all. When I walked in, I was so used to seeing her (Ma’Liah) in the bed when I’d come in, and when I saw both of them laying there, my heart just dropped.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It really hit me: We’ve got twins at the house. This is real now.”
Ma’Liah and Ma’Kaila are now 10 1/2 months old, healthy and full of personality.
Ma’Liah, according to Jennifer, is the more demanding of the two, and “she’s a Daddy’s girl.” Ma’Kaila is still slightly smaller than her sister, but is more independent — moving around on her own, playing and feeding herself.
“It gave me a sense of what I’m really playing football for, what I’m really doing it for,” said the 28-year-old Claiborne, who re-signed with the Jets on another one-year deal in the offseason. “It’s for my family and bringing these two precious little babies into the world, it opened my eyes to a much bigger picture.
“I’ve really learned that it’s not about yourself. Once you have kids, it’s about the kids, but I think I got a re-understanding of that once these two babies were born. I enjoy every moment of it.”
The family was planning to fly to its home in Dallas over the weekend to join Claiborne’s son Morris, who turns 9 in November, and daughter Madicyn, who’s 3, for a special Father’s Day.
“Having these girls made me understand that I really missed some valuable time with my son, but I was off in college (at LSU) and there was nothing I could really do about that,” Claiborne said. “My mindset was on making a way to feed him at that time. Just having them made me realize how much time at this age that I really missed that I would’ve loved to be there.
“I missed that time with him, but God’s given me another chance to experience that and I’m happy for it.”
And Morris and Jennifer, who got married in March in Texas, are still growing their family. They’re expecting another daughter in mid-November.
“I love being a father,” said Claiborne, who Jennifer rates as “really good” at changing diapers. “I love coming home to these faces. I love after games, these kids don’t know whether you had a good game or not, they don’t know what went on at practice. They don’t understand none of that. But when I come home, it’s all smiles because they light up when I walk into the room.
“That puts a smile on my face, just to know they love me unconditionally.”
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)