FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On the third day of the NFL draft, Utah linebacker Trevor Reilly was on Fairbanks Country Club golf course in San Diego with his brother A.J. trying to distract himself. He was trying not to think about what it would mean to be drafted at age 26, about what a long shot he was given knee surgery and a two-year mission to Sweden deferring his college football career.
He was trying not to think about what a quality health insurance plan would mean for his younger daughter Shayn, just a year old but who has already battled kidney cancer into remission.
Reilly knew he wouldn’t go early in the draft, but as the sixth round drew to a close, Reilly started sweating -- and then his phone died. The brothers got into the golf cart and raced to their car. Reilly connected his phone to the charger, got the draft on the radio and then they waited.
Then in the seventh round, with the 233th overall pick, the Jets drafted him.
“It was pandemonium for me and my brother,” Reilly said.
On Friday, Reilly looked around the Jets' lockerroom. He was older than all the other players at the rookie minicamp, and he spied OL Caleb Schlauderaff's locker -- noting the two played together at Utah.
“He’s a great fit and I think he’s a bargain in the seventh round,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a great player with a great skill set.”
Reilly went too hard in his first practice; he knew it, and more importantly Jets coach Rex Ryan -- who usually lauds players for smashing things -- needed to tell the seventh-round draft pick to back off.
“Today had to get on him because he went and tagged some guys off a little too hard for our liking,” Ryan said, “but that’s part of it too, these guys learning to practice like a pro.”
Reilly -- the reddish stubble from his beard blending in with his freckles -- has a lot at stake, and it was hard for him to keep it contained.
“You get one chance, this is my shot,” he said.
Reilly reasons that he needed the time on his mission trip to develop if he ever wanted to play in the NFL. He was 185 pounds coming out of high school to sign with Texas Tech, and you can’t play linebacker if that’s all you have on your 6-foot-5 frame. He put on 40 pounds in Sweden "a lot of meat and potatoes, not a lot of flavor -- sorry, Swedes."
Now listed at weighing 245, Reilly returned and found out the coaching staff at Texas Tech had changed, so he went to the University of Utah as a walk-on, what he calls his third redshirt year. He married his high school sweetheart, Jessica, and settled into family life and football.
Three years ago, they had their first daughter Nelli, and then Shayn. When their little one was seven months, Jessica noticed something unusual.
"It was so sudden, it’s not like I had time to prepare for it," Reilly said. "My wife felt a lump on her, took her to the doctor, the next day they took her kidney out."
Then Shayn began chemotherapy for kidney cancer. She was so small, and the threat was so great. Reilly's voice still quavers when he talks about the months before the doctors told then that Shayn was in remission.
“When your kids are sick and they’re on the verge of dying, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” Reilly said.
And Reilly has been through far more than most 26-year-olds. When he was 13, his six-year-old brother Jett died in a motorcycle accident. Reilly still carries that with him, especially since he and his brothers were given the task of naming their youngest sibling, but it’s different when you feel the full responsibility of a parent for a child, like Reilly did with Shayn.
“I didn’t graduate from college because of that,” Reilly said. “I had two classes in the summer and I had to take incompletes to deal with my daughter, put my life on hold.
"I used to think football is so important, school is so important. But when your kids get sick and it’s something serious, it’s like let’s take a step back and see what’s important in my life. And I found out quickly it’s God first and then my family and then everything else after that.
“That kind of puts it in perspective,” Reilly said. “I’m here doing what I love, but I’m working for my family.”
There is a versatility to Reilly’s game, which is one of the things the Jets noticed.
“He’s a smart guy,” Ryan said. “We knew he plays hard. He’s kind of like Garrett McIntyre, just a tough guy and loves to play. Physical, and really fit that profile that we’re looking for. And he plays multiple positions. They played him out in space, they can use him as a rusher, so that’s why we were excited to get him.”
Whittingham said the game plan for Reilly was different every week. He would play inside linebacker, SAM linebacker or defensive end depending on the opposing scheme.
“He was the guy we wanted at the point of attack as often as possible,” Whittingham said.
Reilly played through an injured ACL, initially torn in April 2012 and sewn together that December. When the stitches failed, he had a scope after the 2013 season. He said the injury isn’t something he’s concerned about.
“I didn’t wear a brace today and didn’t think about it,” Reilly said.
The Jets are getting a player with a sense of humor -- he said he might go see the irreverent "Book of Mormon" musical on Broadway because, "if you can’t laugh at yourself..." They're getting a guy who can drive a golf ball 400 yards. They're getting a player who lost his wedding ring five times and decided to tattoo his wife’s initials “JKR” onto his ring finger.
And they are getting a player who might get reprimanded by Ryan for going a little too hard.
“I think I was more physical than some of the guys would have liked,” Reilly said. “That’s my fault, I’ve got to play with a better sense of awareness around me. It was fun to get out and get around and kind of smack people a little bit. Felt good.”
In other words, the Jets are getting a guy who should fit right in.