FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The workouts began at 6 a.m. in Henderson, Nevada, during the summer. Austin Seferian-Jenkins worked out alone or sometimes with fellow NFL players Seantrel Henderson or Martavis Bryant.
Seferian-Jenkins also would get periodic visitors knocking on agent Brian Fettner’s door, someone from a drug testing center.
Seferian-Jenkins is a recovering alcoholic and was getting tested often, sometimes every day. He wouldn’t know when they were coming to test him, but they were coming, and the Jets tight end would welcome them.
Seferian-Jenkins will make his season debut in the Jets’ home opener against the Dolphins on Sunday after missing the first two games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. On Sept. 23, 2016, while a member of the Buccaneers, he was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on suspicion of DUI. He was cut after the arrest but signed by the Jets after clearing waivers.
Getting cut wasn’t the wake-up call, though. It was the embarrassment of the arrest, the video of it being shown on TMZ, having to face his mom, Linda Seferian, and former teammates — that hurt. But the Jets believed in him.
“Tampa could have stuck with him,” Fettner said. “They would have been rewarded and that’s my opinion. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, Tampa cut him, he got a DUI, so he changed.’ This wasn’t like that. He would have been so grateful for Tampa sticking with him and they didn’t, and he was grateful for the Jets giving him a shot. It’s like anything else. When do people really lose weight? When do people really decide to stop smoking? When they really decide to. When they don’t talk about it, they do it.”
Standing at his locker, Seferian-Jenkins was telling a reporter how many days he’s been sober. As of Wednesday, it was 242 and counting. He didn’t want to count to 243 just yet because the day wasn’t over.
Baby steps. He took those steps during the summer when he lost 60 pounds to get to his playing weight of 262 while working out at Fetter’s house.
“I’m fortunate to be able to play football with a clear head and clear mind and clean perspective, healthy,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I dedicated myself to my teammates, my coaches and the city and the Jets’ organization [and] I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I know how easy it can be taken away from you. I know how fragile life is for you, and a lot of things are in life, and anything can change in a split-second.”
The Jets have endured health issues at tight end, with only two being active for the Week 2 loss at Oakland. It forced offensive coordinator John Morton to use extra offensive linemen during some formations.
Adding the 6-5 Seferian-Jenkins gives Morton more options. And just being on the football field is a big deal for Seferian-Jenkins, even if he only blocks all game. The opportunity he almost lost with his second DUI arrest — he had his first in 2013 when he played for the University of Washington — stings.
“He really took [the second one] seriously,” said Fetter, who plans to go to the opener with Seferian-Jenkins’ mother. “He didn’t go through the motions. Was he a hand-shaking alcoholic mess? No. He was one of those guys that when he got drinking, it got out of hand. He’s one of those and he just decided everybody’s got a number that they should drink and he just decided his is zero. Zero is a good number for him. Mine is like two cocktails, oh, I got to chill. He got zero.”
The new number now for Seferian-Jenkins, who also went to an outpatient clinic near the Jets’ facility, is the 240s and counting. Those are how many days he has stayed sober, and how many days he has walked around thinking clearly.
“I’m at 242 days, and if someone can learn from what I’ve done, I love that,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “If I can ever help anyone that’s been in my situation or a similar situation, I’d love to be there for him. I know how lonely it is, how tough it is and how easy it is not to talk about it and how easy it is to ignore it and not face it head on. I just want to be a friend to somebody who needs help.”