Victor Ochi is still waiting.
The former Stony Brook edge rusher is anxious for another taste of the NFL stage and eager to prove that he belongs on the Jets’ active roster. But while he continues to wait on the practice squad, he eagerly accepts feedback and tutelage anywhere he can get it. Even in the sauna.
“The defensive line coach, Pepper Johnson, he’s been helping me out. We sit and chop it up in the sauna all the time,” Ochi said with a laugh during an interview with Newsday. “You let him talk you to death, you’ll mess around and might faint in there, man.”
The Valley Stream native was originally signed to the Jets’ practice squad on Sep. 12 and promoted to the active roster on Oct. 22. But after making his NFL debut against his former team, the Ravens, and playing against the Browns in Week 8, he was waived on Nov. 5.
A week later, Ochi was re-signed to the practice squad after the Jets promoted cornerback Dexter McDougle to take the roster spot of injured tight end Kellen Davis.
“The wait’s been long, but I’ve been taking advantage of the time,” said the 23-year-old. “Working on my craft, trying to get better at what I do. Just being ready. The more time I wait, the more prepared I will be. So I decided to use the chance as a positive, more than feeling sorry for myself.”
The losses have continued to pile up for the Jets, who were 4-9 entering Saturday night’s game against the rival Dolphins (8-5). But Ochi remains unfazed by the team’s losing streak or his roster status.
“As a human being, you want things now. Especially the way this generation is: ‘I want it now, now, now,’ ” he said. “But I’ve learned to respect the process. And I understand that my time will come. I’ve just got to be ready.”
He’s used his time on the scout-team defense and in the classroom to watch and learn, and also to ask questions — not just to veteran players but also coaches, like Johnson, who won Super Bowls with the Giants.
“Pepper played in the league and he’s won. So you definitely want to pick his brain apart and see what he knows,” Ochi said. “Learn the game within the game and just being one step ahead of somebody.”
His time in the NFL has been a rollercoaster of emotions — from the disappointment of going undrafted this spring, the elation of signing and playing with the Ravens in the preseason, and the surprise of being released by Baltimore shortly thereafter. His tenure with the Jets hasn’t played out the way he envisioned, either. But Ochi said he’s “certain of one thing” — the organization likes him.
With only two more games to go after Saturday’s matchup against the Dolphins, Ochi remains hopeful that he’ll get his second promotion to the active roster. “I’m being optimistic about it,” he said. “They’ve moved a couple other linebackers up, so hopefully I get my shot.
“If not? The grind is going to be serious,” he added with a big smile. “I’ll be ready next year.”
By no means is he satisfied being a practice-squadder, but he’s determined to be use his time wisely. “You can never stop learning in this league,” he said.
And while he hasn’t been able to suit up for a game in more than a month, his self-confidence is unwavering.
“They’ve told me that if certain players were healthy, things probably would be different,” said Ochi, Stony Brook’s career leader in sacks (32 1/2) and tackles for loss (49). “I, obviously, did some things that were good and helped me move up to begin with.
“One thing I know for sure is that they like me here. And I know they’ve got a plan. So that makes it easier to be at peace.”