FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a man still learning about his commitment to sobriety and football.
Addiction to alcohol almost ended his career, he said, and a sudden change in lifestyle has morphed his life into something else: Success on the football field.
At least for now because the Jets tight end understands like sobriety, football can be fluid.
“I take it day to day,” he said. “I don’t look at next week or last week, we’re here today.”
After serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s conduct policy, Seferian-Jenkins, 25, turned into a positive force in the Jets’ offense and will be someone worth watching when they face the Dolphins on Sunday. No tight end has more catches than Seferian-Jenkins’ 23 since his return from suspension and he’s not trying to slow down.
“Because he’s in a different spot mentally, you see a different player, and I think that goes on and off the field,” Todd Bowles said. “We see a lot of things in him. He wants to be the best, and he wants to help the organization and show that he can be the best, and obviously when you get somebody like that that turns their life around, they listen to everything you’re trying to tell them and they try to apply it, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Last September while playing for the Buccaneers, Jenkins’ career went haywire when he was arrested in Florida and charged with driving under the influence. He was quickly released by the Bucs and after a few days was picked up by the Jets. Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2013 while at the University of Washington
Seferian-Jenkins said the second arrest brought shame to him and change was needed. He didn’t immediately. Not until an injury did Seferian-Jenkins realize some movement needed to occur in his life. It happened on Christmas Eve when Seferian-Jenkins suffered a pulled hamstring in a 41-3 loss to the Patriots. It ended his season with the Jets after seven games.
“I felt like I was done playing. L ife was a really hard thing for me to grasp and deal with personally,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I don’t know if a lot of people can relate to it, life sometimes is hard and you have difficult patches in life and sometimes you feel like you can’t get through those and I felt like at that point in my life I wanted to get my life together more than anything. If that meant not playing football anymore that meant not playing football anymore, but obviously I love football and I don’t ever want to stop playing. At that point in my life, I didn’t know if I was going to play football again, it was such a weird position I was in and there was a lot of stuff going on. I’m so thankful to be here.”
The 6-6 Seferian-Jenkins went into the offseason at 260 pounds. He spent the summer in Henderson, Nevada, at the home of his agent working to lose the excess weight. He came into training camp at 236 pounds ready for a new life not only in football but personally.
“I knew that when I made those changes and I really felt that way about it, I put in the work, I dedicated myself off the field,” he said
The waiting while suspended was the hardest part, he said. But when Week 3 rolled around he was there against the Dolphins for the home opener at MetLife Stadium. Seferian-Jenkins was targeted six times catching five passes for 31 yards.
And now Seferian-Jenkins is becoming a reliable target for quarterback Josh McCown.
In addition to the 23 catches, Seferian-Jenkins has 152 yards and two touchdowns. He probably should have an extra touchdown but it was taken away by a replay review in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to the Patriots because it was ruled Seferian-Jenkins fumbled out of bounds. Instead of ripping the officials, who took the touchdown away, Seferian-Jenkins maintained his poise and said it was his fault. Seferian-Jenkins said he needed to protect the ball and turned it into a teachable moment. When asked about the fumble leading up to the Dolphins game, Seferian-Jenkins dismissed any deliberations about, focusing instead on the next game.
It was big step in the development for Seferian-Jenkins, who displayed maturity by moving on from the controversial call. It was something not missed by McCown who played with the tight end as QB of the Bucs in 2014.
“It’s huge. It’s a complete 180 from where he was,” McCown said. “The biggest thing is just his attitude, his overall approach when it comes to work and his consistency. That was the thing. There would be days, kind of like how he is now. He would have some of those days but then there would be some days where there would be lulls where he would be a different guy. Now, Austin comes to work every day and he’s the same guy.”
So now Seferian-Jenkins moves into the heart of his season with a team defying the low expectations of so many. He fights sobriety, football, just life in general.
“I just love the game, man, I figured out my life right now,” he said. “Still a lot more growing to do but I just love this. When you love something, you will do anything for it. I truly enjoy being around the New York Jets and they deserve to have the best Austin.”