FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Austin Seferian-Jenkins spent the past two Sundays holed up alone in his home while watching his New York Jets play on TV, eager to be out there again with his teammates.
With his two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy over, the tight end could get that chance against Miami this Sunday.
“It definitely was tough,” Seferian-Jenkins said Wednesday. “I can’t even explain it. I didn’t go out or anything like that. I kind of locked myself in my room and kind of watched it by myself in my room.
“It was tough, but I’m back.”
That road back, though, has been far from an easy one for Seferian-Jenkins, who marked his 242nd day of sobriety with his first full practice of the regular season.
He dealt with legal troubles a year ago after being arrested on a DUI charge in Florida and was released a day later by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him in the second round in 2014. Seferian-Jenkins was considered a bust, who failed to live up to lofty expectations while dealing with personal demons that nearly derailed his career — and his life.
“It’s really a blessing just to be standing here,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Just to have the relationships that I do with my family, my teammates, my coaches, just to be able to talk to you guys, it’s a real blessing and an honour on my part. I truly cherish that.
“I’m very thankful that God let me get here because it could’ve been easy that I’m not standing here anymore.”
Seferian-Jenkins will turn just 25 next Friday, but already has a lifetime’s worth of experiences to draw on. After he was cut by the Buccaneers, the tight end knew things needed to change. The Jets signed him and gave him a chance — and he was determined to make the most of it.
He sought help for his alcohol addiction and reached out to his new teammates, including former Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who helped guide him to people to assist him.
Seferian-Jenkins had 10 catches for 110 yards in 10 games last season with New York while dealing with ankle and hamstring issues. He spent the off-season working on his mind and body, losing 33 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame and having a solid training camp.
Then came the two-game wait to get back on the field.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be here because I know how easily it can be taken away from me,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I know how fragile life is. I know how a lot of things are in life, and anything can change in a split-second. But right now, I’m here, I’m working hard.”
Because of the layoff, during which he couldn’t practice, Seferian-Jenkins isn’t a sure thing to play in the Jets’ home opener against the Dolphins.
“He’s got to get in a little better shape,” coach Todd Bowles said. “That’s to be expected with two weeks off, but he’ll get going.”
The Jets’ offence could certainly use him. New York currently has five tight ends on its roster, but only two are healthy: Seferian-Jenkins and Will Tye. Meanwhile, Jordan Leggett has a sore knee and hasn’t played yet, Neal Sterling is dealing with an ankle injury and Eric Tomlinson missed the game at Oakland with an elbow injury.
“Whatever I can do to help the team, whether it be blocking or pass catching, I’m looking forward to it,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’m not really about anything like that.”
From where he’s come, Seferian-Jenkins has learned to not sweat the small stuff. He has been refreshingly open in recent months about his struggles to get to this point, and he has served as an example to others who are dealing with their own personal issues with alcohol.
Seferian-Jenkins said he recently received a heartfelt letter from a man who heard his story. In the letter, the man told him that he served as motivation for him to start to make changes to his own life.
That’s when it hits Seferian-Jenkins that he was once a disappointing case of someone who strayed down the wrong paths.
Now, he’s a shining example of what life can be when you turn things around.
“If someone can learn from what I’ve done, I’d love that,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “If I can ever help anyone who’s been in my situation or a similar situation, I’d love to be there for them because I know how it is. I know how lonely it is. I know how tough it is. I know how easy it is not to talk about it, how easy it is to ignore it and not face it head on.
“An example? You can call it that. I just want to be a friend to somebody that needs some help.”