If you've attended a Jets practice this training camp or a game last season, one of the first players in green and white that you probably noticed was No. 35, a cornerback named Isaiah Trufant.
Trufant isn't a Pro Bowler or even a starter. Yet he's on the Jets' roster despite being listed at 5'8" and 170 pounds.
"I personally use it as motivation," Trufant said of his size, "but I wouldn't say that it hindered me. I mean, God has a plan for everybody. With me being small, I tended to have a lot more speed than other guys and so I tried to use other things to my advantage that I did have."
Many people doubted Trufant and his childhood dream to reach the NFL. But the one who always remained on his side was his older brother, Marcus.
"He believed in my talent," Trufant said of his brother. "He told me to just keep working at it and hopefully one day they'll see that you do have the talent to make it."
Marcus' message never left Isaiah. Interestingly, Isaiah's inspiration to begin football in the fourth grade, came from Marcus, who is two years older and today is in his 10th season as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
"I wouldn't say he pushed me, but it was more of a family-friendly competitive thing," Isaiah said. "We were always competing, whether it was basketball, just being two years apart that's just a brotherly thing to do. I always wanted to actually be like him since he was such a great football player. I wanted to be like him if not better, if I could."
These days the brothers are still close and talk at least three times a week. If all works out, they will face off against each other as the Jets are scheduled to play the Seahawks Nov. 11.
"It's the positive things he does," Isaiah said. "Whether it's through the family foundation or just being a positive guy on and off the field, that's what I try to strive to be."
The Jets Come Calling
Although he now is a member of the Jets, Trufant's path to get here was a roller-coaster. He went undrafted out of Eastern Washington in 2006 and would play for four Arena Football League teams before earning a spot on the Jets' practice squad in December 2010. His stay with the squad then was brief as the Jets released him the following month. Early in 2011, Philadelphia picked him up. Yet after the Eagles' training camp, Trufant was released again.
Marcus emphasized to him to not get discouraged and keep a positive attitude.
"What kept me going most was my dream, and my drive to want to do what I love," Trufant said.
Two days after being waived by Philadelphia, Trufant's phone rang. It was the Jets. After being signed to their practice squad for the second time, four days later he was promoted to the active roster.
"I was definitely confident that I could [return]," he said. "But you know, some things are out of your hands and you just try to do things to the best of your ability."
Almost instantly, Trufant took advantage of his second chance with the Green & White. In the Sept. 11 season opener against Dallas, he scored his first NFL touchdown, recovering a fourth-quarter blocked punt by Joe McKnight and running it 18 yards into the end zone to tie the score at 24. The play was a momentum changer as the Jets rallied for their storied 27-24 win.
"That was a big play, a big moment, a big night and I'll always remember that," Trufant said looking back. "Just thinking back on my football career, I'll always remember that as a milestone of starting from little league and just working my way up from Arena 2, then AFL, and just working my way all the way up and never giving up."
Head coach Rex Ryan added at the time, "He's an amazing little guy and the more he plays, he just looks short to me, but he doesn't look small anymore."
"I'm Still on That Journey"
This training camp, Trufant has tried to focus more on patience and positioning, especially since he is expected to cover taller receivers.
"Just be in a position to make plays on the ball because quarterbacks are so accurate," he said. "They can place that ball in such good spots, you've got to be in perfect position anyway. And then let alone being a smaller guy, it makes it even tougher."
Trufant believes a win Sunday against Carolina would be a great confidence boost for the Jets. Although it is uncertain whether he will make their final roster again this season, he said he is going to leave it all on the field. And these days, whenever he runs out of the tunnel he thinks back to when he was a kid, envisioning a dream he always knew he could form into a reality.
"The journey, it's been a long, rough journey, and I'm still on that journey," Trufant said, reflecting on his time in the AFL. "The journey is not over. But definitely that humbled me and kept me grounded to try to shoot for higher things. Arena football, granted it's a great league, but I didn't think that was my stopping ground.
"I wanted to progress and try to get to the highest level that I could. Every year, I seem to somewhat be progressing. So I just never gave up at it."