Working on the second floor of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, it's hard to miss the 6'4", 260-pound tight end sitting a few yards away. While rehabbing from a season-ending torn Achilles tendon sustained during the Week 3 loss in Oakland, Jeff Cumberland is picking up some hours as the newest Jets intern.
Cumberland graduated from the University of Illinois in May 2010, but will not receive his degree in sports management until he completes a required 12-week internship. While working through his injury he was given the opportunity to complete his internship by lending a hand to his team, albeit in a much different manner than he is accustomed.
"Basically, this is helping me decide what I do and don't want to do," said Cumberland. "I can see what's outside of practicing and playing, and see if I want to get into anything else [after football]. I've loved sports my whole life. Of course, I'm still going to watch it and be surrounded by it. What I actually want to do, I'm not 100 percent sure."
With the eighth week of his internship just beginning, Cumberland continues to bounce from one department to another. He is being afforded a valuable opportunity to carry out several different tasks in hopes that he may find his post-career calling.
"I sit up here in the office, I do some work, and I think, Is an office job really what I want?" he said. "No matter if I'm selling tickets or doing sponsorship things, it makes me think, Would I do this? It gives me an opportunity to look at things that are interesting, but there are some things I don't like about it. It's been valuable."
Cumberland has spent time selling season tickets and suites, and most recently he completed two weeks in the Jets' community relations department. It has been an eye-opening two months for the tight end entering his third season. Before taking his seat on the second floor at a desk with his nameplate above, he hardly knew what his teammates on the second floor do on a daily basis.
First, let's have a short lesson in the geography of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, a two-story building in Florham Park, N.J., whose first floor is dedicated to the players. Here is where you will find the locker room and main entrances to the fieldhouse, the training and meeting rooms, the weightroom and the team cafeteria. The second floor is where all the business and front office operations are carried out.
People 'Doing Things You Never Knew About'
"Before, I knew there were people up here but I didn't know how many," Cumberland said. "Then when I got up here, there are so many desks that you wouldn't expect. Half these people I had never seen before. It gives you time to meet the people around you doing things you never knew about. When you're downstairs, you're with the players, coaches, trainers, but you don't know too many people up here."
Being away from the game and his teammates is difficult. Cumberland had never suffered a serious injury in his life before this year. But the opportunity has its benefits, including some guilty pleasures that players are forbidden from indulging in during the season.
"Even in the cafeteria, the food is different than what the players eat," he said. "Up here, they might not have as much food, but they have more of the desserts the athletes wish they had."
In addition to daily access to the myriad cookies offered to team employees, Cumberland has been able to achieve a new perspective on an old game.
"Not being able to play or practice, I've been able to watch, observe, and realize what's really going on out on the field," he said. "It makes you realize how a true fan would feel."
The 24-year-old Cumberland hopes to have several productive seasons ahead of him, and why not? Since joining the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2010, he has continually improved. Known as a rangy, pass-catching tight end coming out of college, he has worked hard to improve his blocking ability. In four regular-season games, he has just four catches for 38 yards, but he was the Jets' leading receiver this preseason with 11 catches and 156 yards.
All NFL careers eventually end, and many ex-players are left with no discernible direction. The unfortunate Achilles injury that ended Cumberland's sophomore season has given him a new perspective on his future.
"It's given me time to think, 'OK, football is not forever.' When you're done — you can go 10, 15 years, play until you're 35, 40 — that's still young," he said. "Not that you have to work, but who wants to just sit home all day?"
"You're Here for the Games"
When Cumberland tore his Achilles on Sept. 25, he was told the timeframe for a complete recovery was anywhere from four to six months. Now, about four months removed from the injury, he is walking without a limp but is not quite ready for sprints. He spends his time in the weightroom and has been cleared for light jogging and moderate lower-body weightlifting.
"Once I'm out there, I want it to be 100 percent. Whenever it's healed, it's healed. As long as I'm able to play that first game of the season, when we start our road back, I'm good to go," he said. "That's the most important part. What is it to be ready for practice and then you mess it up because you weren't ready? You're here for the games."
Out of bitter disappointment, a valuable lesson has come into focus for Cumberland. The thought of missing the vast majority of a football season was not an idea that sat well with the young tight end. Now, he is using his time upstairs as an investment for his future.
"When you're healthy, everybody tells you that football is not forever and the average career is four years and all that. You listen to it, you hear, but you don't really think about it," he said. "Once you get hurt, you don't know what could happen. You don't know if your rehab is going to be good enough to come back.
"It gives you time to think, 'Wow, this time is going to be up soon and I need to have a backup plan.' You never know when it's going to be."