Greg Van Roten is living out his childhood dream, and he wishes he could share it in-person with his family and friends.
The Chaminade High School product will play his first game Sunday for the Jets, the team he grew up rooting for when he lived on Long Island. Van Roten still can’t believe it. But there is an emptiness.
There will be no fans in Buffalo because of COVID-19 restrictions and none next Sunday when the Jets play their home opener versus the 49ers at MetLife Stadium. The Jets' starting right guard was sure to have a big cheering section that day.
“The fact that right now there’s no fans makes it a little bittersweet because it is this realization of a lifelong dream,” Van Roten told Newsday in a phone interview. “You can share it with people, just virtually. Not in person. That really kind of stinks.
“Hopefully we can navigate through this and then maybe at some point this year and hopefully next year we will have those in-person moments that are so special.”
Van Roten, 30, is still fired up to make his Jets’ debut, and for more reasons than his fandom.
He ended last season with Carolina on IR with a foot injury. And there was a time in the spring when it seemed like there wouldn’t be professional sports. All of that has Van Roten “chomping at the bit” to play Sunday.
“It is such a unique situation that we’re facing as a league and as a country,” he said. “We’re not the only show in town with all the sports that are on now, but it seems like football has always been something that people plan their schedules around on Sunday.
“It’s pretty exciting knowing that I’ll be playing my first game as a Jet in front of my friends and family — on TV at least.”
Van Roten, who still owns a home in Long Beach, was part of the Jets’ offensive line makeover. He was one of the first players general manager Joe Douglas called during free agency. Van Roten signed a three-year, $10.5-million contract to return home, and is still giddy about being a Jet.
He used to go see them practice at Hofstra, and said he was a huge fan of Wayne Chrebet, a Hofstra alum. Van Roten said he could relate to Chrebet’s story, too. They were both undrafted and had to work their way into the NFL.
Van Roten was signed by the Packers in 2012, played in Canada, and was waived or cut six times in his NFL career. He sees pictures of Chrebet all over the Jets training facility and he becomes a little boy again.
“I’m definitely not over it,” Van Roten said. “It’s cool, like I’m in the fieldhouse right now and you can see all the banners of all the players from the past. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about growing up a Jets fan, watching these guys and now being in the building and getting to add that legacy and help a franchise that I deeply care about be successful.”