The Jets hope they have found a diamond in the rough with fourth round pick Dwight Lowery from San Jose State. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Dwight Lowery has not signed a professional contract, he has yet to play a snap in a regular season game, nor has he participated in an NFL training camp during the dog days of summer, but the rookie cornerback already knows all too well about life on the fly.
As final exams were concluding last month at San Jose State University, Lowery was in the classroom, taking the final steps toward earning his college degree. While Lowery, a psychology major, was finishing his studies, his new team stood nearly 3,000 miles away and had begun holding their Organized Team Activities. Under an agreement between the NFL and the NCAA, a player cannot participate in an NFL camp until that player’s academic term is complete.
However, less than 24 hours after the final exam, Lowery made the trek across the country where he soon found himself being given another lesson. But this time the classroom was Weeb Ewbank Hall and the instructor was New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini.
Lowery, a 5-foot-11, 201 pound cornerback who was selected 113th overall (fourth round) by the Jets in April’s NFL Draft, was back on the field to participate in the team’s voluntary practice. Sporting his number 34 uniform, Lowery was more than happy just to be practicing as a member of Gang Green.
“I feel lucky just to be in this situation. Blessed and fortunate and regardless of whether there is a job opening or anything like that, just to be in this position is a blessing in itself,” Lowery said.
After a collegiate career which consisted of two-year stints at Cabrillo College and San Jose State, where he intercepted 26 passes in just 40 games while playing both cornerback and safety, Lowery joined a Jets secondary which has characteristically provided fans with a mixed-bag of results on the field, totaling just 13 interceptions last year. But after a long offseason and with the addition of Lowery, Mangini has high hopes for the cornerback position in 2008.
“I think we have some good competition there. I like the things that Justin Miller did going into last training camp and into the early part of last season. David Barrett and Hank [Poteat] have a lot of experience and that’s positive," Mangini said. “Drew Coleman is making some progress and we’ll have to see how Dwight [Lowery] does. Most of these other guys are going to get plenty of opportunities to show what they can do and we’ll just see how it unfolds.”
While the first practice was surely a memorable experience for Lowery as he spent much of the afternoon working alongside up-and-coming star Darrelle Revis and veterans Barrett and Poteat, he was introduced to the sharp learning curve from the moment he stepped onto the field. In the 90-minute practice, he learned two new defenses and kept one idea in mind.
“I’m just really trying to get up to speed with everything that we’ve learned to this point and that’s really the only thing I’m focused on,” he said.
For all NFL players, the road to success on Sunday does not just begin on the practice field. Instead, it starts in the classroom, where both rookies and veterans are handed 200-page playbooks. Lowery knows that the time devoted to studying must be extensive.
“I spend a lot of time, anytime you put in a new playbook. You have to make time to study and that’s the biggest thing when it comes to film study and preparation,” he said. “You have to make the time yourself because the time at the facility just isn’t enough.”
Lowery takes the diligent approach that would leave any NFL coach smiling.
“I’m the type of person who wants to master something and anytime something new gets introduced to me I may not learn it right off the bat, but I will have it mastered at some point in time,” he said.
This attitude has shined brightly throughout his playing career, especially during the last two seasons. San Jose State associate head coach Keith Burns called Lowery, “[The] most prepared guy I’ve coached in a long time.” Burns who has coached cornerbacks Brian Kelly (Detriot Lions), Jason Sehorn (retired) and Barrett (New York Jets) over his career, described Lowery’s work ethic as “second to none.”
While Lowery believes that his solid work ethic and versatility on the field are what peaked the Jets’ interest in him, he is mainly focused on turning around the team’s struggles.
“Anytime a team drafts a player, they’re drafting a player to come in and contribute in some way, shape or form, whether it’s because of versatility or they specialize in doing a certain thing. Every single move that an organization makes is for a purpose and I just want to fulfill that purpose,” he said.
Even with the rapid learning curve that encompasses the life of first-year players, the rookie cornerback admitted that his most challenging adjustment is neither on the field nor in the locker room. Instead, it is becoming accustomed to life away from home.
“It’s a huge change for me as far as just as a person. Football-wise, you love to play the game and you know that’s going to come with repetition and with just being out here, but I think the biggest adjustment is just getting used to being on your own a little bit more and starting a new chapter in your life," Lowery said. “It’s exciting and it’s kind of crazy at the same time.”
The trip to Jets’ camp in Hempstead, N.Y. represented the first time the Santa Cruz, Ca. native has been to the Empire State. His previous stops at Cabrillo College and San Jose State were both located only a few miles from his hometown.
While Lowery may take time to adjust to his new surroundings, the attitude of his new head coach has already grown on him.
“[Coach Mangini’s] got a cool personality. I feel like he’s the type of coach that if you work hard and you do the things you have to do, you will get the opportunity to play regardless of what your position is and regardless of where you were drafted or anything like that. It’s a good thing," Lowery said. “He’s got good messages all over the facilities and as a player it puts you in a mental state and in a position and an environment to succeed.”