Austin Seferian-Jenkins just finished a grueling workout in a series of punishing gym sessions designed to increase his explosion and improve overall strength. At 6-foot-5, 262 pounds, the former Washington Husky star tight end runs the 40 in the mid 4.5s and possesses elite jumping ability. Jenkins, a free-agent tight end of the New York Jets, is a physical specimen on the heels of his best NFL season.
This, however, is a distant reality from a year and a half ago when the former second-round draft pick was reeling – cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a DUI arrest in September 2016. Without a support system in place, he lost himself and turned to drinking. His low point came on Christmas Eve when he walked home by himself after downing upward of 15 shots of hard alcohol.
After his first season with the Jets ended with a hamstring injury, Jenkins thought his football career was over. He didn’t see the benefit anymore. That was until he checked himself into a detox center.
“I was just having a tough time,” Seferian-Jenkins told Yahoo Sports. “People have tough times. I needed to get help.”
At first, he was reluctant to speak with other people at the facility. He certainly did not want to discuss football nor did he want to talk about his previous mistakes and lapses in judgement. When he realized, though, that he was finally in a judgement-free zone, Jenkins opened up. Slowly at first, and then more and more. He began leaving the solitude of his room and leaning on resources he never knew were at his disposal.
“These are resources people should use,” he says. “I should have used earlier. And it helped me out. I got back on track. It’s called life management. It’s real cool.”
After six days, Jenkins was dismissed from the program. Additionally, he attended rehab four times a week – each for three and a half hours – on an outpatient basis. Then, he went to the Las Vegas area to endure a strict training and nutrition program, while simultaneously adapting a vegetable-heavy diet and downing about two gallons of water daily. He mixed in two Pilates classes per day and a heavy dose of hills. The results were staggering: Jenkins lost nearly 30 pounds and regained his quickness and dexterity.
Now, over 400 days sober, he enters NFL free agency as one of the league’s most coveted pass-catching threats, one who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his immense potential.
“I have a lot more to offer,” he says. “I expected to be [even] more productive. I know I can do a lot more. I can give a lot more. I can be a big time target. … I’ve always felt like I could do it. That feeling has never wavered. You just know it.”
Remember, Jenkins’ 50 catches last season ranked 13th out of all tight ends, despite the fact he missed three games (two of which were due to the league’s substance-abuse policy).
A key component of Jenkins’ confidence stems from the fact that the 2017-18 season (his second with the Jets) was the first time that he really focused on himself. Not only was he sober, but he was completely locked in on football for the first time. In many ways, he views it as his rookie year, one in which self-help and reflection were a daily part of his regimen. He wrote the numbers 1-365 down on paper as a point of reference for each day.
“I wish that never happened,” Jenkins says. “You just go through it every single day. Reflection reminds you of your goals and what you’re trying to reach. I wish I didn’t make those poor choices. Those things are selfish and I’ve learned from those things.
“I just kind of go day-by-day. I just have so many goals that I set for myself, that I’ve written down. There’s so many things that I want to achieve. You go through things in life and you learn through them. Everybody goes through different things — whether by their poor choices or mistakes that happen. Fortunately I’ve been very lucky and I’m very thankful to have the opportunities that I’ve had after making poor choices.”
Opportunity is a word that Jenkins uses — not because he feels entitled to it — but because he feels so appreciative of it. He is ultra appreciative of his mother, his teammates, his coaches and all of his fans. It’s why he starts every morning with a solo jog to set the tone for each day.
He says he feels “comfortable” in New York for the opportunity he has to “flourish and be yourself.” Still just 25 years old, ASJ remains in the infancy stages of his football development. It’s why he will command near top-market value, somewhere along the lines of $6 million to $8 million per year. Never before has he been this motivated and locked into what he hopes to accomplish in between the lines.
“I am focused on my craft,” Jenkins adds. “I work hard at whatever I do. … You got to set the tone. That’s one thing I enjoy and bring to the table is working hard and getting everybody else to work hard with me.”
Fair enough, but what exactly does the ceiling for a fully dialed in Seferian-Jenkins entail?
“I think it’s a dominant red-zone guy, a guy that can set the perimeter in the run game,” he says. “I think it’s a guy that can be in the open field and catch the ball. In man-to-man coverage, having enough speed and agility to get enough separation and make big plays. Having a good feeling in soft zone when you want to pass the ball on second and third down. I really feel I can help out the whole entire drive and not just the red zone.”
And that’s the thing about Jenkins. He doesn’t mince words, nor does he shy away from telling you like it is. Being true and honest with himself has been a byproduct of both getting clean and staying clean. Because in his mind, there is no longer room for anything else.
“I want to be recognized by my peers as a Pro Bowler, All-Pro,” he says. “I want to win a Super Bowl. I want to be a captain, but I don’t have to be. I’m the hard worker. I just want to be in there grinding with everyone else. Off the field, I want to be giving back, helping people in some sort of fashion.
“I like scoring touchdowns,” Jenkins says. “Don’t get me wrong. That’s what I like to do.”
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.