The 6’4”, 322-pound tackle was a second-round pick of the 2011 draft by the Indianapolis Colts before the Jets claimed him off of waivers on Sept. 1.
Ijalana recalls bursting out laughing when he heard which team he’d be headed to because “I was born in New Brunswick in Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, so I was going to be a Jet eventually.”
Fate may have led to Ijalana’s spot on the 53-man roster, and he wouldn’t change the ability to play for his hometown team for the world. He is, however, looking to change one thing: his role on the Green & White. The 24-year-old was on the active roster all year, but he was inactive for all 16 games this season.
“It was a little bizarre,” he said. “I told myself I wanted to get back to football in any fashion, and through all my prayers and hard work I technically did. But I’ve yet to don a game jersey or wear a helmet outside of practice. I want more Jets logos on my body on game day.”
Still, he has faith that owner Woody Johnson, general manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan have a plan for him in the new year, and that, he said, gives him hope.
“There’s a saying, ‘If you don’t like where you’re at, do something about it,’ " he said. "I love the team I’m on, but I hope to build my role on the team. I’ve got months to do something about it. And I will.”
He’s excited for the offseason because for the first time in his NFL career, he’s injury-free at end of the regular season. “The Bigger Ben,” as he’s known in the Twitter-verse, tore his ACL two years in a row with the Colts, Week 4 of the 2011 season and on the very first day of training camp last year.
“Now I don’t have to worry about rehabbing a knee,” he said. “I’m worrying about, hey, I can do these things to make myself a better football player instead of doing things to just be able to play football.
“You almost want to pat yourself on the back for getting through the whole season,” he continued, adding he had a weird smile on his face as his exit physical took about 30 seconds, “but at the same time, this is what should be the norm. Preferably, this is the shortest I want my season to end.”
For Ijalana and rookie O-linemen
Fans might not have seen much from these linemen this season, but headed into the 2014 season and beyond, these players could turn into forces on the five-man front for the Green & White.
“Absolutely,” Ijalana responded when I asked him if he sees himself as a starting NFL tackle. “That’s probably why I’m kind of restless on game days. I just do my part, help the team in any way I can, but for me, it’s not cool just to be able to say I was in the NFL for so-and-so years. At one point, we were all starters, and I want to get back to that, so that’s what I’m striving for.”