There will be mixed emotions for Austin Seferian-Jenkins when he watches his Jets teammates begin the season without him next Sunday in Buffalo and the following week in Oakland.
On the one hand, he will miss them terribly and feel helpless. On the other hand, he will be thankful that he has come to grips with a problem that threatened his NFL career and possibly his life.
“I know it’s going to be bitter, because I can’t be with my team and I can’t play and I can’t help,” Seferian-Jenkins said of his impending two-game suspension to start the regular season. “We’ve all put in a lot of work, and I feel like I’ve let them down. But at the same time, I’m going to be thankful that I made changes in my life so I don’t have to go through this again and be sitting on the sidelines.”
It has been an intense period of self-examination for nearly the past year for Seferian-Jenkins, who was arrested on a DUI charge last September in Tampa while he was with the Buccaneers. He almost immediately was released by the Bucs and claimed on waivers by the Jets in a move that general manager Mike Maccagnan felt could bear fruit down the road — but only if Seferian-Jenkins made changes in his personal life.
The biggest change was acknowledging that he had a drinking problem and asking for help.
“I think most men are taught to internalize things, not just football players,” he said. “It’s been important for me to be open about it and talk about it. This is what I went through, this is what I’m going through, this is where I’m going to continue to go. I can’t explain it, but if you ask me, it just feels good letting it out. It was a lot harder when I didn’t tell anyone. It’s a lot easier that people know. When I come into the [Jets’] building, I know I’m supported. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t support me.”
Seferian-Jenkins found purpose in football again, rediscovering his passion for the game after losing his way during what turned out to be a little more than two seasons in Tampa, where he was a second-round pick in 2014. One man who helped him find his way: Anthony Becht, another Jets tight end who also wore Seferian-Jenkins’ uniform No. 88.
The two became acquainted in Tampa, where Becht, a first-round pick of the Jets in 2000, lives and works as a commentator on Buccaneers broadcasts.
“Going all the way back to college, coming out of Washington, he had some issues,” said Becht, who played 12 NFL seasons for the Jets, Bucs, Chiefs, Rams and Cardinals. “But his potential [as a football player] was hard to stay away from. When he came in [to the Bucs], he was given every opportunity. I just don’t know how much he loved the game of football when he was there. But sometimes you need a couple of scares in your life to get a wake-up call. You don’t get too many chances when you’re in the NFL, and he’s taken full advantage of this opportunity with the Jets. He’s told me how much he loves coming to work in the morning and getting into the film room. You see the potential from him.”
In his last game action before his impending suspension, Seferian-Jenkins flashed that potential, making a critical catch for a first down in the first quarter and catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg in the back of the end zone in the second quarter in a 16-10 preseason win over the Eagles.
Seferian-Jenkins will be permitted to report to the team’s training facility during his suspension but is not eligible to practice until the week of the Jets’ Sept. 25 game against the Dolphins.
“He can be a real weapon for the Jets,” Becht said. “If he keeps going in this direction, the sky’s the limit. Look at [quarterback] Josh McCown’s success with tight ends. [Browns tight end] Gary Barnidge got paid a lot of money in Cleveland because [McCown] threw him the football. He needs that tight end to get the football to, so Austin could be that guy when he comes back in a couple weeks.”
The 6-5 Seferian-Jenkins has terrific speed and is a big target. He lost about 20 pounds in the offseason to increase his quickness and had an excellent training camp. More importantly, he has gotten his life together so he can make this all about football.
He will miss playing alongside his teammates the first two weeks, but in the bigger picture, it is a small sacrifice.
“I’d rather take the two games,” he said, “than the way I was living.”