Jets DE John Abraham is on his way to a career year in 2004. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
When a college athlete is set to join the professional ranks, they encounter a new collection of circumstances. Once regarded as the big man on campus, they first must earn the respect of their teammates before launching a climb to NFL greatness. In addition to their relocation on the totem pole, the player faces enormous pressure to perform during their rookie year. In the case of New York Jets DE John Abraham, a first-round draft choice in 2000, the glitz and glamour of his newfound celebrity status engulfed him during the 2003 season. It is a fair assessment of Abraham, who admits that he had lost control of his life at one point.
“I think before I was letting other people support me, even though I was having the money,” Abraham said. “There were a lot of things in my life that I needed to control, and now I control stuff myself and handle myself on and off the field the way I want to be seen.”
The provocative lifestyle Abraham led to a nightmarish 2003 season. The team decided to deactivate Abraham following his DUI arrest last October during the team’s bye week. In addition, Abraham was bothered by a groin strain that was not responding to treatment, forcing the Jets to place their star defensive end on Injured Reserve and officially ending his season after just seven games.
“Last year, I was out in the club doing something crazy,” Abraham admitted. “This year, it’s been completely different; my whole mindset has changed. My mindset is focused on this football team and trying to finish (the remainder of the season) the best possible way we can.”
Abraham’s renewed attitude has been evidenced in his production so far this year. Perhaps more importantly, Abraham has steered clear of trouble off the field and through the team’s bye week in September. Jets head coach Herm Edwards has noticed a rapid growth in maturity in the five-year veteran this year.
“I think his circle of friends has gotten smaller and I think he is choosing his friends now more wisely,” Edwards said. “I think the players are looking at him differently too because of what he has gone through. He has really come back this year and gotten himself in shape. He has been a model citizen. He has done everything a coach has asked a guy to do. He has practiced very hard and he wants to have his best year.”
His hard work has indeed translated into an ultra-productive start this season. After five games, Abraham leads the AFC with seven sacks and has displayed a quick up field rush to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Throughout his career, Abraham has registered 40.5 sacks, including a career-best 13 sacks in his second season. His momentous improvement is only overshadowed by his recommitment to the Jets and to the game.
“I think I can see now for me being at peace with myself,” Abraham said. “If you are not worrying about anything off the field, all of your focus can go on football. 80 percent of me right now is on football That is a good thing for me because I feel like football is the majority of my life right now.”
The league has noticed Abe’s re-surgence. During Patriots’ QB Tom Brady’s chat with the NY media this week, Abraham was the main topic of conversation.
“He (Abraham) has seven [sacks]”, said Brady. “He is trying to break the quarterback's back. John Abraham is as good as there is and he is coming off that edge and attacking the quarterback. If you are standing around too long with that ball in your hand, you are going to have helmet marks right in the middle of your back at some point, which I'm not intending to do this week. He comes hard and he comes fast and he comes all the time.”
With a renewed focus and spirit, the 26-year old Abraham has resumed his standing as a stalwart along the Jets’ defensive line this season. A breakout year for Abraham could not have come at a more opportunistic period with the team flying high at 5-0 and him being in the final year of his contract. Although it hasn’t been said publicly, there have been reports that the team was hesitant to sign Abraham to a long term extension due to his outside issues. Now, that they seem to be behind him and the fact that he’s on track for a career year, the team will surely have to pay big bucks to retain the two-time Pro Bowler.
“Hopefully (I can) help the Jets get to a Super Bowl and to be a positive role model on the team,” said Abraham, in an interview following the 2000 NFL Draft. If he continues 2004 the way he’s started, this season could be the year he does both.