Mike Catapano is businesslike by design, a creature of habit who puts the same amount of preparation and energy into each practice as he does every game.
“I’m always amped,” the Jets outside linebacker said, smiling. “That’s just how I am.”
But even he couldn’t deny that this one will be special for obvious reasons.
The Bayville kid who grew up rooting for the Green and White, will proudly don his Jets jersey again Saturday night when he faces the Giants. And this time, Catapano is determined not to have his night end prematurely.
On Dec. 6, 2015 — just two weeks after he was activated from the Jets’ practice squad to the 53-man roster — he recorded his first sack of the season against Giants quarterback Eli Manning. But on the ensuing series, he suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his promising first season with the Jets. Eight months later, the Long Islander is healthy again and primed to start his first preseason game.
Catapano, 26, has earned himself first-team reps in practice. On Saturday, the Chaminade alum is expected to see a good amount of playing time in the Jets’ third, and most critical, exhibition game.
“It would be great to come back and have a good game,” Catapano said. “But it doesn’t really matter that it’s the Giants, to be quite honest. It’s just the next team up and I approach everything a million miles an hour.
“But I mean, obviously, growing up in New York and everything else, it’s all special to me.”
Since returning to practice earlier this month, he’s suffered no setbacks. “Foot’s been solid, thank God,” he said.
Most of his time has been spent trying to fine-tune his transition from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end to an outside linebacker in Todd Bowles’ system. As a defensive lineman, “you can just go. You let it rip,” said Catapano, a 2013 seventh-round pick of the Chiefs. “Standing up, you have to see the big picture, you have to see the offensive formation, you have to see what they’re trying to do to you because you have to react in a couple different ways.”
Versatility is vital. And the Princeton grad loves the mental and physical challenge of his new position. “You’re kind of like a jack of all trades. It takes more of me, but I think I can give more to the team at this position.”
Three days after Catapano was blindsided by his release from the Chiefs, the Jets signed him to their practice squad Sept. 8. At first, his high motor rubbed some teammates the wrong way. But now that he’s earned more respect in the locker room, his teammates “know what to expect from me now,” he said. “They know when they line up against me, they know they’re getting ready to work. There’s no off plays with me.”