Jaguars' Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Time with Jets 'saved my life'

Austin Seferian-Jenkins on his time with the Jets: "I was really messed up at that point in my life. Didn't have any direction. I felt lost, and they brought me in. They helped me." George Gojkovich/Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Austin Seferian-Jenkins wouldn't be in Jacksonville were it not for the New York Jets.

He believes there's a possibility he might not even be alive, either.

That's why Sunday's game against the Jets at TIAA Bank Field will be an emotional one for the Jacksonville Jaguars tight end. Not only did the Jets help him resurrect his career, he said they helped him turn his life around. He doesn't know what would have happened had Brian Heimerdinger, the Jets' VP of player personnel, and GM Mike Maccagnan not taken a chance on him after Tampa Bay cut him following a DUI arrest in September 2016.

"They chose me," Seferian-Jenkins said. "That was a big deal, to me. I was messed up. I was really messed up at that point in my life. Didn't have any direction. I felt lost, and they brought me in. They helped me. They had gotten me help that I needed and I've been playing good football ever since, so I really owe them a lot.

"Obviously, I have to do it on my own and I have to go out there and I have to hold myself accountable, but that organization I have nothing but -- I owe them a lot. I owe them a lot."

Seferian-Jenkins admitted he was in trouble -- and potentially headed for even more -- in September 2016 when the Florida Highway Patrol pulled him over in Tampa for speeding (75-80 mph in a 55 mph zone) and driving erratically. It charged him with DUI and violation of an Ignition Interlock Device restriction from a 2013 DUI arrest when he was playing at the University of Washington.

An embarrassing police video surfaced shortly after in which he was captured making crude remarks in the back of a police cruiser.

The arrest was it for the Bucs, who cut the former 2014 second-round pick on the day he was arrested. Seferian-Jenkins never reached his potential on the field -- he played in only half of the Bucs' games through his first two seasons, catching 45 passes for 603 yards and 7 touchdowns -- and the franchise decided it was best to move on.

The Jets claimed Seferian-Jenkins off waivers and he went on to play in seven games and catch 10 passes for 110 yards the rest of the 2016 season. Seferian-Jenkins admitted in a May 2017 ESPN story that he continued to drink throughout the rest of the season and his weight ballooned to 285 pounds.

He eventually decided to seek help after the season in an outpatient rehab program. Seferian-Jenkins said the support he received from Heimerdinger, Maccagnan, head coach Todd Bowles, tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson, then-offensive coordinator John Morton and quarterback Josh McCown as he sought treatment was instrumental in him beating the alcohol problem that nearly cost him his career -- and potentially his life.

"I needed help," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Truthfully, as an African American man we're conditioned to not ask for help and be strong on our own. I had to realize I couldn't do something on my own. I needed help and they were there to help me, and I'm always indebted to them. I really appreciate them."

That's why he's always going to be a Jets fan. Except for this Sunday, of course.

"Every time they're out there I really hope that they win," Seferian-Jenkins said. "When we're playing them, obviously I want to win, but I really want to see coach Bowles succeed. I want to see Mike Maccagnan succeed and especially Mr. Heimerdinger. Mr. Heimerdinger saved my life so I appreciate him more than anyone."

Bowles said he's glad Seferian-Jenkins has continued to thrive after getting his life in order.

"That's outstanding," Bowles said. "You always worry about the person first and not the player. I think he's done a great job and continues to do a great job with doing everything the right way. That helps his football element as well. You know the talent he's got on the field, but for what he's been through and where he came from, I can't do anything but take my hat off to him. I have total respect for him."

Getting his life together off the field helped him save his career. Seferian-Jenkins caught 50 passes for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games with the Jets last season. The 50 receptions were nearly as many as he had in his first four seasons combined (55), and that enticed the Jaguars to sign Seferian-Jenkins to a two-year, $10 million contract with $4 million guaranteed.

He has started all three games and has nine catches for 66 yards and one touchdown. He also had a touchdown catch wiped out by a penalty on left guard Andrew Norwell.

There's no way to know where Seferian-Jenkins would be today had he not gotten the support to seek help for his drinking problem. Maybe things would have worked out anyway. All he knows is he's a different person now than he was in his first few seasons in Tampa, and the Jets have a lot to do with that.

"Being in Tampa was when I grew up," he said. "I was 20 or 21 years old, going in there, still learning about life, learning how to be a mature adult, not just a man. Everyone wants to say, 'Be a man.' It's about being an adult and going through life problems and all those other things and understanding myself and knowing myself. I didn't know who I was. I didn't understand myself as a person, and New York helped me do that. Coach [Todd] Bowles helped me do that. The Jets organization helped me do that.

"I'm here in Jacksonville and I'm ready to do the best I can do for them. I'm not worried about anything like that. I'm focused on what I can do today. What do I have to do for my teammates? What do I have to do for my coaches? What do I have to do for this city so they can get the most back on their investment in me and I can get the most out of myself so I can be the best tight end I can be?"