Larry Brackins has been surfing a wave of euphoria the last two months. That, after a rocky start to his career.
When he came out of Dothan (Ala.) High School, several big universities, including Florida State and Alabama, showed interest in him, but he fell short of the academic qualifications and wound up at Pearl River CC in Mississippi.
Brackins dominated the competition at that level and, with his 6'4", 225-pound frame and 40-inch vertical, was regarded as one of the top sleepers in the 2005 draft.
The Buccaneers selected him in the fifth round but injuries limited his productivity and the team released him before the season. Tampa Bay re-signed him in January 2006, then cut him again that July.
"It was disappointing that that didn't work out," Brackins said after signing with the Jets and going through his first training camp practice Tuesday. "You always think that you're going to be with the team you're drafted by, but it doesn't happen that way sometimes. You move on."
So he moved to the Arena Football League, signing with the Philadelphia Soul. Success didn't come immediately there, either. He had an up-and-down rookie season and the team went 8-8.
Then the calendar turned to 2008.
The Soul, who lost their starting quarterback to injury early in the season, had backup Matt D'Orazio step in and lead them to an Arena Bowl championship. Brackins, with his 107 catches for 1,395 yards and 29 touchdowns, was a major contributor to the AFL's highest-scoring offense.
What's more, he preserved the Soul's season with a dramatic touchdown to beat the New York Dragons in the second round of the playoffs.
Philadelphia trailed, 48-43, with seven seconds left and needing 28 yards to score, when Brackins caught a pass over the middle and scampered for the end zone. As time expired, he was jumped by two Dragons defenders as he dove for goal line with his arms outstretched. A touchdown was signaled, but it went to replay. Did his knee hit the ground before the ball broke the plane?
The players, on both sides, paced back and forth while the referee was under the hood. And after a lengthy review of the extremely close play, it was determined that there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call.
Touchdown. Game over. Hero.
"I feel like I got in," said Brackins, who went on to score two touchdowns in the 59-56 win over San Jose in the Arena Bowl. "It was close, but I knew they weren't going to overrule it."
That play, and the championship that followed, he considers his greatest football achievements. Getting drafted was special, he said, "but that's a championship. You get a ring and it's a moment you can't ever forget about. As a child you dream about winning a world championship, so when you do it, it's a dream come true."
He hasn't received his ring yet, and he doesn't consider them "10-table stunners," but the $50,000 blingers from Tiffany's, he said, are stunning enough.
His summer got even better on Aug. 11 when the Soul gave him a contract extension. With that job security, which has seldom enjoyed in his career, Brackins was able to exhale and relax.
Then serendipity's rollercoaster took him up another level, proving again that one person's misfortune often leaves ajar the door of opportunity for another. When David Clowney went down with a shoulder injury last week and the Jets were short a receiver, Brackins' phone rang.
"I was at my house in Tampa, just watching TV on a Sunday," he said. "They contacted me and told me to hop on a plane."
Brackins said that he also received offers from the Eagles, 49ers and Buccaneers (again), but thought the Jets situation was most favorable.
"I feel real good to be back in the league," he said. "That's one of my goals, to be playing outside. I want to make a name for myself."
And so he faces another challenge: readjusting to the NFL and learning a new offense after having missed two seasons and almost all of training camp. He realizes how daunting a task it is.
"The field is bigger, there's more players and better athletes out here," Brackins said. "It's more of a mental thing, too. It takes more preparation for the outside game. It's more organized and there are more schemes. I'll have to study real hard to get the concepts and pick up on the playbook in time."
And of the possibility of making the Jets final cut and shooting for two championships in one year, he said: "We've got a top team right here and [Brett] Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live. It could happen."