When Jaheim Oatis was 3, his mother was buying him double-stacked hamburgers, a side of chicken nuggets and fries.
“And my baby would eat all of it,” Linda Lee told SEC Country.
Oatis was 10 pounds, 6 ounces when he was born on Nov. 30, 2002. He now stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 274 pounds. He’s Jefferson Middle School’s (Columbia, Miss.) closer on the baseball team, where he’s been clocked at 84 mph on the radar gun. He’s hit more than 30 home runs. He plays center for his school’s basketball team and is the starting tight end and defensive end for the football team and has been clocked at 4.7 in the 40-yard dash.
The 14-year-old turned into a viral sensation this past week after tweeting out a picture of him standing next to Nick Saban while on a visit to Tuscaloosa and claiming an offer from Alabama. That’s his third SEC offer. His other two are Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
His mother, who has five other children, knew something was going to be different about Oatis the day he was born.
“I never thought in a million years that I would have a 10-pound, 6-ounce baby,” Lee said. “When I was in recovery, the nurses came up to me and said I had the biggest baby on the hall. I couldn’t believe them.”
Oatis’ uncle, Rodrick Miller, knew his nephew was different when he played t-ball. He towered over the other children his age. That has continued over the years. While three SEC schools have deemed him worthy enough to play college football in 2022, he only stopped playing pee wee football two years ago when he was in the fifth grade.
The Mississippi native was 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds in fifth grade. He didn’t play up in age or weight until this past year where he was going up against eighth graders. It was the first year where he put 100 percent effort on the field.
“The thing about Jaheim was he really couldn’t play to his full potential because he has such a big heart,” Miller said. “He doesn’t want to hurt any kid. He was basically playing down to the competition.”
Oatis’ heart was what Lee and Miller harped on the most when it came to talking about the massive middle schooler. He’s a kid who wakes his mother up on Sunday mornings and gets mad at her if she makes them late to church.
Miller’s daughter, Amaya, passed away this past February after a battle with a brain tumor that was discovered in October. While Jaheim didn’t know what to say to his uncle, who has become a father figure in his life, he was there for him.
“It’s kind of difficult at times when I come around him and he knows I’m having an emotional day,” Miller said. “He tries to stay humble through it all and be positive around me. Jaheim really is just a big teddy bear though. He knows when we go to these camps and I see little girls running around, it makes me very emotional. It’s just been an emotional roller coaster since February.”
The first camp Oatis attended was at Mississippi State earlier this year. Oatis and Miller didn’t make it to the registration table before a Bulldogs assistant coach stopped them and tried to figure out who he was.
“We were literally walking through the door and one of the coaches was just like, ‘Uh … ya’ll come here. Come here,”‘ Miller recalled. “One of the coaches asked, ‘What grade is he in? Eleventh or 12th? I said, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘Tenth or ninth?’ I said no, again, and he said, ‘You have got to be kidding me. Is he in college?’ I told him that he was just going into the eighth grade. He got several more coaches over after that and the rest was history.”
Though he has received verbal scholarship offers to attend college for free, Oatis is the same kid he’s always been. Nothing has changed. He rides his bike to the park to play basketball and his mom has to yell at him to clean his room.
The only difference is the national exposure he’s received. Every major sports website has done a story on Oatis. He will appear on SportsCenter Friday night.
“It’s just a dream, honestly,” Oatis said. “I’ve worked hard to be on that TV screen. My mom always told me to keep God first. I go to church every Sunday. I pray every day and I keep my head straight. I think God will take me a long way.”
His mom didn’t see scholarship offers coming this quickly for her son. He just stopped taking ADHD medicine about three months ago. Before the medicine, she didn’t know how serious Oatis was about sports.
“None of this stuff was ever in my cards for him,” Lee said. “When he was younger, he was hyperactive. He was in and out of trouble and just being bad. He had to get on medication for ADHD. Once we did that, everything got better.
“When he got that first offer, it was the best news I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. I cried, but they are happy tears. I saw the news all over on Facebook at work. My co-workers wanted to know what was wrong with me.”
And since then, he’s accomplished another one of his dreams. Oatis said since he started playing and watching football, he’s wanted to meet Nick Saban. When he did meet him this past weekend, Saban, according to Miller, insisted on taking a picture with Oatis.
The five-time national champion couldn’t believe Oatis was heading into the eighth grade. It’s not the first time Alabama has offered a scholarship to a middle schooler. Dylan Moses, who’s now a freshman at Alabama, was offered by the Crimson Tide in the eighth grade.
While Oatis is a long way from college, he has his sights set on providing for his mother one day.
“I’m just trying to get my mom to a better place,” Oatis said. “It’s very important to me. She’s the one who’s taken care of me since Day 1. I have gotten everything I have asked for. She gives me everything. It’s time for me to give her everything.”