An injured spinal cord shortened Lou Benfatti's career and didn't allow the defensive tackle to make his mark with the Jets as he would have liked.
That isn't the case in his second career as a middle school principal.
An All-American at Penn State, Benfatti, who was raised in Green Pond in Rockaway Township, NJ, was chosen by the Jets in the third round of the 1994 NFL Draft.
"Becoming a professional athlete, being drafted by the Jets, was absolutely phenomenal," Benfatti said. "I mean, I've reached the part of the chapter of my life, where that goal was accomplished, and it was like, OK, now you've got to make the team."
Benfatti made the team, but was only able to play half of the season for Pete Carroll, in his only year as the head coach, because of a knee injury. However, those games wearing the Green & White for the first time, is something that he'll never forget.
"When you're running out, people are screaming your name and you recognize some that you've either gone to school with or people that lived in your community that know you. So, it was really special," Benfatti said. "And you're looking across and see the Dan Marinos, the John Elways, that you, growing up, thought to yourself, 'Wow, these guys are really special.'
"Yeah, it was just a dream come true. You hear that cliché all the time, but it was satisfying because I worked hard during the course of my college, and when I was able to accomplish this, it was fun. They're paying you to play football. It was wonderful."
Heading into his third season, Benfatti's playing days came to an unfortunate end during the final preseason game of the 1996 campaign in Oakland.
"I fractured my C-4 and C-5 (vertebrae), and had a career-ending neck injury," Benfatti said. "I was making a routine tackle, and as the pile was falling to the left, my head hit the thigh pad of a teammate and kind of ricocheted my neck a little bit.
"I did speak with (former Jets defensive lineman) Dennis (Byrd, who had suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury during a game four years earlier). It was a special moment being able to share a conversation about similar injuries."
And while he wouldn't be able to play any longer, Benfatti looks at the times when he was able to take the field for the Jets fondly because he could share them with his family.
"Being able to have my mom and my dad, my sisters and my brothers, all share the experience and be able to come and watch, we were only 50 minutes away from my home in New Jersey when we played at the stadium," Benfatti said. "And just being able to be a part of a great organization. It's really a dream come true when you look at it from a young boy's standpoint.
"The platform that I was able to serve as a professional athlete for those three years has still affected my life 25 years later, while I'm in the field of education. Those years were so special and they're at the top of that career profession of being an athlete. I was able to take those years and put them in a little showcase and relate them to the students of today.
"I'm currently a principal at Hopatcong Middle School in North Jersey, and I'm able to utilize some of the same work ethics, some of the same strategies, some of the same concepts that go into preparing for a football game to prepare the staff to teach the kids of today."
Benfatti's career in the field of education began as a phys ed and health teacher.
"In my sixth year, I was just getting the itch of wanting to really be a leader within the district. When that came about, I wanted to aspire and do something more," Benfatti said. "And there was an opportunity coming down the pike for a vice principal job at the middle school. So, once I got my certification, I interviewed for the job and went from teaching to becoming an administrator in the same district."
Initially becoming a principal in 2009, because of COVID, this past year has been a challenge for Benfatti, his staff, and the students.
"There are many obstacles just as there are with football. We're trying to adopt new game plans in virtual education and our teachers are working extremely hard to develop their platforms of how they are communicating the standards for science and social studies and math and English via Google Meets," Benfatti said.
"It's amazing how much we can learn in a short amount of time. Education has changed. We're making history with what we're doing, and it's evolving into something that's so totally different from when you and I went to school.
"Until you're able to witness it, and observe the incredible amount of stress our kids are going through with organization, with trying to keep all of those assignments organized… It is a huge, huge pendulum shift as to what they're going through right now."
Making their home in North Jersey, Benfatti and his wife, Jodi, have four children. Cole and Drew, who are students at Franklin & Marshall College, where they play football. Danae, who is pursuing a career as a dental hygienist. And Gavin, who is a junior at Jefferson High School.