RB Jesse Chatman
Jesse Chatman did not play in an NFL game in either 2005 or 2006. When he finally returned to the field in 2007 as a member of the Miami Dolphins, he was elated.
"It was almost like a feeling that you can't describe. If you are a religious person, it's almost like catching the Holy Ghost," he said in a recent phone interview with newyorkjets.com. "It's not that strong, but it's like this is where you belong and this is where you need to be. This is your livelihood, this is what you normally do. This is what you've always had fun doing since you were a little boy in the street with no shoes on."
Chatman, a 5'8", 225-pound RB who signed with the Jets in March, started his professional career in San Diego and played three seasons for the 'Bolts from 2002-04. He impressed as LaDainian Tomlinson's understudy but was waived prior to the 2005 season.
Having never fully recovered from a football injury, Chatman had put on a lot of weight. The Dolphins signed him in September '05, only to deal hiim to the Saints in October. He was released less than a month after the trade and was suddenly out of football.
By January 2006, Chatman weighed in excess of 280 pounds. He was inactive and he wasn't disciplined with his diet. With his career on the line, he had a choice to make.
During the San Diego winter, he jogged outside and moved indoors for the stair climber. In addition to playing football again, he didn't want to set a bad example for his children.
"In order to teach my kids [son, Sahvere, and daughter, Jaylynn] about not quitting and pushing hard, I had to keep pushing hard myself. I felt like the best way for my kids to learn it was by me being an example for them," he said. "I didn't feel like my career was over for me to be home. It would have been me giving up and not doing anything for it."
Food for Thought
That drive led Chatman to change his diet. He cut his fat intake, eating a lot of stir-fries and also trading in pork and beef for turkey, chicken and fish. He also took his workout program to the next level, signing up at a local 24-hour fitness center.
"With my membership there were times I would get up at two in the morning and go work out. Then I would get up and get my kids going, and after I dropped them off I'd go work out again at 8 a.m.," he said. "By the time they got done at school, I'd pick them up and go work out again at four. Then I had a personal trainer who was also training me on the side twice a week."
The body transformation took months, but Chatman needed a taker for reentry into the league. As luck would have it, the Dolphins hired Cam Cameron as their head coach in January 2007. If there was anyone who knew about Chatman's abilities, it was Cameron — the Chargers offensive coordinator when Chatman played in SoCal.
Sensing the opportunity, Chatman (who was 223 pounds at the time) contacted Chargers trainer Jimmy Collins and asked if he would weigh him only days after Cameron had joined Miami.
"I faxed it over to the Dolphins and they showed Coach Cam," he said. "Coach Cam was like, 'Let's give him a shot.' The thinking was, 'That's a head trainer's signature, so he must be down in weight, so let's bring him in."
In Miami, Chatman ran with his opportunity. Dolphins starting RB Ronnie Brown went down with injury early in the season and Chatman collected career highs in rushing yards (515) and receptions (27). This past off-season, he tested the free agency waters and liked the temperature in New York.
"I felt like the Jets wanted me just as much as I wanted the Jets," he said. "I've never been part of a team like that. The coaches wanted me as opposed to 'Let's just sign this guy to see what he can do.' I actually felt wanted — like coming there was a college recruiting trip. They made me feel right at home."
Where Does Jesse Fit In?
The Jets already have a talented RB duo in Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and could always add to the position in the draft. Where will Chatman work into the equation?
"I' m going to come in and learn, play my position and play my role," he said. "I can't really say where I can see myself because I have to feel it. But I don't know the answer to that yet."
Even if his touches are limited, Chatman is willing to make a contribution in another important aspect of the game.
"I love special teams. Special teams start the game and I love starting the game," he said, his voice rising. "That's what I do, and honestly, that's how I got my start. You have to remember where you come from. In San Diego I didn't get to run the ball. I was all special teams and then I eventually got a chance to start."
Chatman never played special teams at Eastern Washington. As a senior, the Division I-AA All America selection rushed for 2,096 yards. If Chatman earns a roster spot in September and appears in a game, he will become the first active Jet to have rushed for 2,000 yards on any college or pro level. (Ian Smart, who was in the Jets' 2003 and '04 camps, ran for 2,000 twice for Division II C.W. Post and '04 seventh-round draft choice Derrick Ward did it once for NAIA Ottawa in Kansas.)
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It just fell in my lap," he said of the record-breaking campaign. "I'm trying to have it fall in my lap again with the Jets."
Of course, Chatman wasn't referring to rushing totals. After having climbed the long road back to the NFL, he is back doing what he belongs. His address may have changed but the love and commitment for the game are stronger than ever.