Austin Seferian-Jenkins recalls how career almost ended on Christmas

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- During the offseason, Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins showed up every morning by 7 o'clock for his cardio work, which included elliptical training and rowing. After breakfast, he was off to yoga and hot Pilates. In the afternoon, he was back in the gym for a 90-minute weightlifting session.

He did this four or five days a week at the Van Hook Sports Performance Center in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas. For Seferian-Jenkins, Sin City was Thin City. He dropped 32 pounds in the offseason, starting what has become a terrific comeback story.

"You can tell if a guy was out the night before on the Strip," fitness guru Brian Van Hook said Wednesday by phone. "That was never the case with him. He was on time and never missed a workout."

The hard work, coupled with a lifestyle change, is paying off.

Seferian-Jenkins, whose career was nearly ruined by a drinking problem, has caught more passes (23) over the past four weeks than any tight end in the NFL. His most recent catch for the New York Jets vaulted him into a national firestorm -- the controversial fumble in last Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots.

By Wednesday, Seferian-Jenkins was done talking about his touchdown that wasn't. He might have lost possession of the ball, according to NFL replay, but he has gained control of his life. That, to him, is the bigger story.

"I'm lucky to be here," he said. "The last time I played the Patriots, I pulled my hamstring, and I thought that was the last time I was going to play football. ... I felt like I was done. I felt like I was done playing."

Seferian-Jenkins was referring to last Christmas Eve at New England. He was struggling with off-the-field issues that would come to light in the spring, when he went public with his drinking problem. He was in a dark place at the end of last season, and the hamstring injury -- albeit a minor setback in the big picture -- felt like a case of piling on.

So last Sunday was a full-circle moment for Seferian-Jenkins, who has battled back from his Christmas low point. He's still only 25, but he was at a crossroads at the end of last season, not sure of anything.

"Life was real hard for me to grasp, to deal with," he said. "I know a lot of people can relate to that, how their life sometimes is hard. You have difficult patches in life, and sometimes you don't feel like you can get through those."

After outpatient rehab and support from the Jets, who picked him up on waivers last fall from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following a DUI arrest, Seferian-Jenkins changed his body and his mind. He lost the weight and gained the trust of the Jets coaches.

"Because he's in a different spot mentally, you see a different player," coach Todd Bowles said. "That goes on and off the field. He wants to be the best, and he wants to help the organization and show he can be the best."

Quarterback Josh McCown, who played with Seferian-Jenkins in Tampa, has noticed "a complete 180 from where he was." In Tampa, he said, the tight end had good days and bad days -- or "lulls where he'd be a different guy." That's no longer the case, according to McCown.

After finishing out a disappointing season with the Jets, Seferian-Jenkins had a choice to make. He opted for sobriety. Once he quit drinking in January, the pounds started to come off. He gave up fast food, drank organic shakes for breakfast and worked out daily, three times a day.

"Like I said [in the spring], I'm going to have the best year I've ever had," he said. "I knew that when I made the changes. I put in the work. I dedicated myself off the field. I'm just happy. As a person, I'm happy.

"Football has never really been a hard thing for me. It's off-the-field stuff -- like life -- that's kind of been [hard] for me. Once I got that handled -- the life part figured out -- football was easy."