Jason Gwaltney has a renewed outlook. He has had time to think in this season on the sidelines, this time due to injury at Division III Kean University (N.J). And he has a surprising announcement: Football isn't his only passion in life.
He's thinking about life after football, which could begin in a few months. He still envisions a shot at the pros, but he's preparing for another career if no team calls.
Long Island's most gifted high school player since Jim Brown knows the football clock is ticking. If there is no more football in his future, he will not lament over what could have been.
He is thinking about becoming a policeman. He wants to take the academy test, either for Long Island or New York City.
"I know in the next couple of months I have to make a decision financially," he said. "Can I come back to school? If I can't, then I have to go for my training."
Gwaltney, still only 22, had his pick of scholarship offers after a glorious career at North Babylon High School, but now he has to pay his own way in the non-scholarship world that is D-III.
"Financially, unless something comes about, I don't know how I'll be able to pay for school next year on my own," he said.
Gwaltney played in the season opener at Kean, but sustained a severely injured left ankle. He has not returned.
"I went for a run to the right side and got gang tackled by six guys," he said by phone from the campus. "I broke out of the pile, went for 14 yard and as I passed the safety - he let me go past him - he just dove at my ankle and just bear hugged it. It got badly twisted."
That might have been his last college football game.
"I can't play, I'm still in a boot right now," he said. "The scrimmage before that I had five carries and two receptions for a total of 190 yards and two touchdowns. The injury occurred at a bad time, but I'm going to keep my head up."
"He was heads and shoulders above anybody on the field," Kean coach Dan Garrett said. "I think he would have added a big play component as a big, strong physical back."
Despite his injury, this has been Gwaltney's best collegiate season, based on his attitude.
"Everything I heard or some of the stories you get wind of, he's been 'Yes sir, no sir, yes coach, no coach,'" Garrett said. "He fell in love with the players and family atmosphere. He's been nothing but very cooperative, bought into our philosophy, regimen, bought into everything."
The old Gwaltney bravado surfaced. "I'm proud that I came here and helped the defense," he said. "They pretty much played against the best running back they'll play against the whole season."
He said he is not giving up his pro dream, but will be prepared if no free agent tryout is extended.
"I've been through a lot of unfortunate things, made a lot of bad decisions in my life," he said. "I know as long as I'm given an opportunity, good things can happen. I worked hard, came into a situation where I was wanted. I see a big difference in the way I function, in the way people around me function. If you come into a program and people are positive around you, good things are going to happen. I wanted to stay for two years to prove to the NFL that I can be stable. It's not about film with them, they know the ability is there. They're more interested in me showing I can stay in a situation and show a commitment."
Garrett said, "We had 21 NFL teams come through, a lot of the [scouts] asked to see J. They would like to see him stay longer than a year to show that he has stability. Will a [team] take a shot on him? I'm sure there's a guy out there who will. Probably more of the [teams] if he was able to stay another year."
Gwaltney will not opt to transfer - yet again - to a D-III in New York State where he could get in-state financial aid.
"I feel like that would be doing the wrong thing," he said. "Going backward in proving that I'm a respectable and loyal person. If I financially can't do it, I'm going to take my chances."
Gwaltney knows of the missed opportunities, especially the two stays at West Virginia. He doesn't need to be reminded.
"It's not the red carpet event that I wanted," he said of a pro career that seemed to be in the waiting. "I made mistakes, I made my bed and I have to lay in it. Yes, I made mistakes, but I've shown growth. Everybody's not mature at the same time. I've proved I'm mature, respectful, hard-working and loyal."
He does hope to get one more shot, this time in a pro camp.
"For me to keep fighting for what I want, it has to show some GM that I just love this game or something is really wrong with me. It's either or. This has been five, six years of everything. Going from this school to that school, everything under the sun I've been through. I just feel nothing out there that's going to stop me. Except myself. I can't let down myself, can't let down Long Island. I'm one of the greatest athletic specimens to come off there [and] for me to just waste my talent would be real unfortunate. I have a backup plan [the police academy], but I know I have a shot."