Jason Trusnik took the football off the field, brandishing it in both hands as if it were a baton and he were a Florida A&M drum major.
"It's something I'll never forget," Trusnik said of his first pro fumble recovery, which led to a short-lived 6-0 Jets lead over the Dolphins at the Meadowlands two Sundays ago. "Coming off the field, I was excited, and my teammates and everybody were just as excited and enjoying it with me."
He didn't do a victory lap or a planned celebration, but just the joy of Bryan Thomas' sack of Chad Pennington and his post-recovery excitement left him with an unusual feeling.
"You use so much emotion," he said. "I came off the field and I was like, 'Man, I'm a little winded.' That's something I'll never forget."
Trusnik had just come on the field for his first defensive play of the game, following David Bowens at the top of the second quarter as the two replaced David Harris, who left late in the first frame with an ankle injury. Thomas delayed his rush as part of a six-man blitz, then found a clear path to Pennington, executing only the second strip-sack of the former Jets QB all season. Trusnik was also in on the pressure party and pounced on the ball when it came loose.
Trusnik went back on for 16 more defensive snaps at his new ILB position, playing more in the loss to the Dolphins than he had in his previous six games combined. He couldn't have known Harris would have to leave with his second injury this season, but he was ready.
"I knew I was going to play special teams all week," he said. "But I make sure I know what I'm doing because you never know what's going to happen out there on the field. It just happened that David went down and I rotated in a little bit and just took advantage of my opportunity. I was able to come in and make some plays and hopefully finish the season well for myself."
As well-prepared and versatile as Trusnik has become — he's played teams, end in the sub rush, inside 'backer and outside 'backer — he admitted he wasn't ready for what came the day after the Jets' 24-17 loss, the decision that head coach Eric Mangini would be relieved of his command.
"I was actually, you know, a little shocked," he said of Mangini, who made Trusnik the only undrafted free agent he personally phoned immediately after the 2007 draft. "It's tough, with Eric bringing me in last year. I thought I had a bond with him. He's a real good guy. ... It's never an easy thing, whether it's one of your teammates or it's a coach, it's never easy. For a moment, there is some emotion behind it."
It's also not easy being the coaches or players left behind. Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum are in the middle of a thorough coaching search, but because some of the candidates could continue in the playoffs for several more weeks, the identity of the new football boss and the direction his leadership will take remains unknown.
For a player such as Trusnik, will he fit into the new coach's scheme? Does he have the skill level, the body type, "the right stuff"?
Does he have the body of work to continue his Jets career? After all, Trusnik arrived as an undrafted free agent after his big-sacking career for Division III Ohio Northern. He spent half the season on the practice squad last year, played six games, then suffered a serious foot injury that landed him on IR and then this summer on PUP.
He finally got back into uniform for Game 8 at Buffalo, where he promptly turned in a key ST play, drawing a holding call on Bryan Scott to wipe out Brian Moorman's first-down fake-punt run.
If there are any concerns for his young NFL career, Trusnik has put them aside. He's going to continue to work out at the Atlantic Health Training Center, and he and his fiancée, Nicole, will be planning their April 4 wedding. At some point he'll get back home to Ohio to see his family.
And he'll take time to offer his heartfelt wishes to Mangini, although he doesn't suspect his first Jets coach will need them.
"I think the best is ahead for Eric," Trusnik said. "I've always said things work out the way they're supposed to and what's meant to be is meant to be. So things will work out for him and we'll take the next coach who comes along and we'll embrace him, we'll move on as a team and a unit, and we'll look forward to next year."