Greg Van Roten posted an old picture on Twitter on Saturday night of himself and his two brothers one Halloween when they were children on Long Island. In the photo, Van Roten was dressed as a Jet, helmet and all. He tweeted, “It’s been a long time coming.”
Van Roten, 30, grew up a Jets fan and always wanted to play for them — and now the guard will, having agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Jets over the weekend.
Van Roten, who is from Baldwin and moved to Rockville Centre when he was in the sixth grade, believes it was destiny.
“It can’t just be a coincidence to grow up being a Jets fan and get to the NFL from Long Island and then have an opportunity to play for your hometown team,” Van Roten said in a phone interview Monday. “There’s so many other teams out there. It’s pretty rare. It’s pretty cool. I’m definitely looking forward to getting there and playing football.”
Van Roten’s father and grandfather were Jets fans and he became one, too. He remembers going to practices at Hofstra and Jets games at the Meadowlands.
His mother is from Connecticut and is a Patriots fan. She’s going to have change her allegiance now.
The Van Rotens also are going to have to change their game-day routine to see their son play. They retired to Hilton Head in South Carolina about five years ago. Van Roten spent the past three years playing for the Carolina Panthers. It was about a 3 ½-hour drive to go to games. Not anymore.
“When I called my parents and told them I’m going to sign with the Jets, the first thing my dad said was, ‘You’re going to play for the Jets and I live in [expletive] South Carolina,’ ” Van Roten said. “He’s excited. But he’s like, ‘I can’t believe I’m down here. I got to get up there.’ I told him don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.”
It has been a dream come true for the 6-3, 305-pound Van Roten, who went to Chaminade High School and now lives in Long Beach. He can’t meet with the Jets in person because no one is permitted in the facility because of the coronavirus outbreak, but he said general manager Joe Douglas has made him feel extremely welcome and wanted.
“Everyone’s very excited, very fired up,” Van Roten said. “They told me I was the first call they made in free agency. They were targeting me, and they were really excited we were able to get an agreement. It’s good to go to a place, one, that you’re familiar with because they’ve been my team since I was a kid, and two, that really, truly wants me to be there and values me after everything I’ve been through in my career to this point.”
Van Roten has bounced around since going undrafted out of Penn. He signed with the Packers in 2012 and spent two years blocking for Aaron Rodgers. He’s been cut four times, been placed on injured reserve twice and spent two years playing in Canada for the Toronto Argonauts.
Now he’s home. Literally.
Douglas put an emphasis on protecting quarterback Sam Darnold and overhauled the offensive line. He reached deals with left tackle George Fant, left guard Alex Lewis, center Connor McGovern, guard-center Josh Andrews and Van Roten, who’s penciled in to play right guard.
Van Roten said former Panthers teammate Ryan Kalil, who played center for the Jets last year, “guided” him through the process.
Kalil told Van Roten about the organization, the coaching staff, the offense and Darnold. Van Roten exchanged texts with Darnold on Sunday night and both expressed excitement about working together.
Van Roten can’t wait to finally put on a Jets uniform.
“It’s wild to think about,” he said. “I think it’ll be even more real, lucid, when I’m actually at the facility in meetings, around those guys, wearing the Jet green. That’s going to be pretty crazy. I’m excited about that. This is the team I grew up with, so I feel like I already have a vested interest in their success. I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”
It’s been a long time coming.