FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In text form, Mike Catapano’s words might read as corny, a cliche version of a football gladiator. But in person, they ooze sincerity, making it difficult not to believe in him as much as he believes in himself.
It is the kind of hyper-focused confidence the Jets hope translates onto the field Sunday, when the Chaminade High alumnus out of Bayville is in line for a big role.
“I’ve always been a why-can’t-that-be-me guy,” the defensive end-turned-linebacker said Friday when asked about measuring up to elite NFL defenders. “With my work ethic, why not?”
He was wearing Princeton gym shorts as he spoke, a handy illustration of his unconventional NFL pedigree.
But that hardly seems to matter to a guy who in the course of 10 minutes or so called himself a “sponge,” “a Swiss Army knife,” “hungry like a dog,” “a rabid animal” and someone who practices daily “like my hair is on fire.”
Catapano, 26, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2013 and spent two seasons with them. The Jets signed him to their practice squad last year, then promoted him to the active roster in November.
He played three games — recording a sack of Giants quarterback Eli Manning — before suffering a Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Eight months later, he returned to practice in training camp with a new position and about 20 pounds lighter.
Now here he is, a potentially key figure in the opener against the Bengals with rookie linebacker Jordan Jenkins doubtful because of a calf injury. Depending on Cincinnati’s opening package, Catapano could well be a first-time NFL starter.
“Super, super excited,” he said, anticipating a game with about 30 friends and relatives in attendance and with an added layer of meaning as a Long Islander playing on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “It’s an intense day, meaningful. As a New Yorker playing for the New York Jets on Sept. 11, I’m going to be on fire more than ever before.”
Catapano grew up a Jets fan, complete with a Curtis Martin replica jersey hanging in his closet. It never gets old.
“The first time I put on [a Jets jersey] last year, I was like, ‘Wow, this is real, dreams come true,’ ” he said.
The next step comes Sunday for a guy who proudly has been annoying teammates since he was 8 years old with his intense approach to practice.
“Some guys hate me during practice because I come out like a rabid animal every day,” he said. “On Sundays, it’s 20 times worse.”
Notes & quotes: LB David Harris has not missed a game since 2008, but he is listed as questionable and said he still is “sore and tight” with a shoulder injury. Harris said he was relieved he did not suffer a broken collarbone, as he had suspected originally. When asked if this is the worst he has felt on the Friday before a game during his playing streak, he said, “I would say it’s up there. It’s up there.” . . . According to a source, the Jets converted some of CB Buster Skrine’s salary into a signing bonus to create about $2.5 million in cap space.
With Kimberley A. Martin