ST. LOUIS – Jeff Janis isn’t sure what happened after he crossed the goal line.
He remembers catching Matt Flynn’s pass over the middle at the St. Louis Rams’ 32-yard line. He remembers sprinting across the field and toward the left corner pylon. He remembers Rams safety Christian Bryant diving at his legs in a last-ditch tackle attempt.
But then? Nothing.
“I don't really know what happened after that,” the Green Bay Packers’ rookie wide receiver confessed with a smile after his 34-yard touchdown catch-and-run sealed a 21-7 preseason victory over the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome Saturday night. “I kind of blacked out.”
But here’s one thing Janis is certain of about that touchdown: He knows his dad saw it. Somewhere up there, Christopher Janis is smiling through that salt-and-pepper goatee of his, proud that his son didn’t quit the game that he clearly was meant to play.
He’s also up there expecting more. Like father, like son.
“He's just probably got a big grin on he's face and he's just as excited as I am,” Janis said. “[But] he's not satisfied, I know that. Neither am I.”
After missing the first week of training camp because of shingles, which he contracted on the eve of the first practice and was severe enough that it sent him to the hospital, Janis has been making up for lost time ever since. While coach Mike McCarthy has called him “raw,” the seventh-round pick from Division II Saginaw Valley State has been doing something the other young wideouts haven’t: Making one eye-catching play per day in practice.
“It was great to get Jeff out there finally. It was great experience for him and he continues to do something every day,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that you look for.”
And now, seven days after he missed the preseason opener at Tennessee, Janis is the leading candidate for the No. 5 wide receiver job behind Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and fellow rookie Davante Adams. With fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis, who is close friends with Janis after their shared journey to the NFL Draft, headed for season-ending injured reserve following knee surgery, the Packers were looking for one of their young pass-catchers to seize the opportunity.
Not only did Janis do that in a big way – the film of his touchdown will likely be enough to prevent the Packers from being able to sneak him through waivers and onto the practice squad at the Aug. 30 final cutdown – but he also looked the smoothest of any of the young receivers enlisted to return punts. While Adams looked indecisive after last week’s two-fumble performance and Myles White looked lost on a short kick for his only opportunity, Janis caught three punts cleanly, returning one for 9 yards and fair-catching the other two.
And he did it all while wishing his father could have seen it, as Friday had marked the four-year anniversary of Christopher’s death from liver cancer.
That’s why, while his teammates were posting snapshots from Busch Stadium during the team’s outing to the St. Louis Cardinals game, Janis’ photo stream contained just one addition: An undated, black-and-white image of him with his dad, Spend some time scrolling through Janis’ Instagram page, and you’ll see other square-picture tributes to his father, with whom he became close later in life after his parents divorced when he was 5.
“It was [emotional], but I just knew I had to come out and show what I can do,” said Janis, who was a redshirt freshman at Saginaw Valley and contemplated quitting football in the wake of his father’s death. “I think he was definitely watching over me and helping me get through it.”
While Janis’ teammates know about his speed, having nicknamed him “V-12” in reference to the Lamborghini engine – “You've got the V6, the Honda Accord; you've got the V8 Porsche; and then you've got the V12 Lambo, and that's him,” Adams explained – most of them were unaware of the emotions Janis brought into the game.
“Obviously he missed the first week or so of camp, and we’re so busy with film, there’s not much time to talk. So I had not heard that story,” Nelson said. “Obviously, impressive. What a great debut.
“I’m sure he has things to work on, but when he got the ball, he made a splash, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Added Flynn: “He has great top-end speed, great vertical speed – and he got the ball and showed it. He’s got a knack for making plays.”
And that’s what Janis plans to keep doing. While he made a strong statement Saturday night, he’s not about to get complacent.
“There's a lot more to be proven,” he said. “It was thrown my way only once and I made one play, so there's a lot more to be done.
“I think I had a pretty good guardian angel over me today. I'm just glad everything happened the way it did.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.