It's been a rapid progression for Jacob Bender in the past five years, but one that he's had to earn every step of the way.
A team captain at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., Bender was an all-everything left tackle, averaging more than 16 knockdown blocks per game. But Marshall University was the only Division I-A program to show interest, offering a spot as a walk-on, and Hofstra University rescinded its scholarship offer to him after his official visit, saying it was waiting on somebody else.
Now, after a monster collegiate career at Division I-AA Nicholls State, Bender earned a spot in a Hofstra dormitory this summer as the sixth-round draft pick of the New York Jets.
He may have earned even more for himself after a solid training camp.
"It's really not a function of impressing after he's started taking [first-team reps], said head coach Eric Mangini. "He's done a lot of things leading up to this point to get that opportunity, just like anybody who gets reps with the first group. You have to do a lot of things right leading up to that point."
Bender, a hulking 6'6", 320 pound lineman with a thick Maryland accent that fits the part, is grateful for all the opportunities he has gotten.
'I just feel blessed," said Bender. "I thank the coaches for giving me the opportunity and I'm just going to work hard and see how it works out."
During rookie minicamp, Bender worked at his long-time position, left tackle, but in training camp he saw action at guard and right tackle. While adjustments have been challenging at times, his enthusiastic approach has made him an easy fit into Mangini's belief in position flexibility.
"It takes some getting used to, but once you learn it you feel comfortable," he said of rotating around the O-line. "The more versatile you are, the more valuable you are."
One could attribute Bender's success to the strong support he receives from his parents. He is one of a family of motorcycle enthusiasts, and his parents have made the four-hour trip from his hometown of Mayo, Md., to see the Jets' first two preseason games at the Meadowlands.
As for Saturday night's contest against the Giants, one of his parents may have to bow out.
"Well, my mom might not make it because my sister's supposed to be having a baby," said Bender. "But my dad will probably come up. Actually him and one of my [older] brothers might ride up."
For Bender, it's been nice having a little slice of home at each of his first two games, his performances in which he received praise from his coaches.
Coming from a Maryland town of just over 3,000 people with "fishing, a park and a quiet neighborhood," Bender has fit the profile of wide-eyed rookie, stating earlier in camp that he was amazed just to see himself in a Jets uniform when watching video.
"Mayo's a small town out on the peninsula right on the Chesapeake Bay," said Bender. "They've got water around here which is sort of like home, but it's a little bigger up here."
This big fish from a small pond is about to show how well he's adapting.