New York Jets cornerback Blessuan Austin is set to make his NFL debut in what should be an emotional homecoming for the New York native and Rutgers product.
For New York Jets cornerback Blessuan Austin, Sunday’s game is set to be the ultimate feel-good homecoming story. It will be the culmination of a near 14-month rehabilitation process that’s led him back to where it all began.
It will be perfect conditions for a storybook NFL debut.
And for a Jets franchise starved for optimism, at least one of the team’s players will have something to smile about when he takes the field this Sunday.
Austin attended college at nearby Rutgers University just an hour-and-a-half drive from where he is set to make his NFL debut. And that road to the NFL has been a difficult one filled with plenty of ups, but even more downs.
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After a solid freshman season with the Scarlet Knights, Austin would emerge as one of the Big Ten’s most promising young cornerbacks after a standout sophomore season that saw him earn All-Big Ten honorable mention honors.
Entering the 2017 season, hopes were high that Austin could follow up on his previous success and further establish himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.
Unfortunately, no one could have predicted the grievous string of events that were set to unfold.
Austin would start the first four games of his junior season before suffering a torn ACL that would cost him the rest of the season. For a player who many viewed as a future Day 1 or 2 draft pick, it was devastating.
But Austin worked hard to rehab and get ready for his senior season, only for it to once again be stripped away from him in cruel circumstances.
The man they call “Bless” stepped back on to the field for the first time in nearly a year in September of 2018. 11 months worth of rehab were put in just to arrive at this moment.
So when he came down with an interception in the team’s opener against Texas State, it felt like a fairytale ending to what had been a long, arduous journey. He had finally made it back and was ready to lead his team’s defense and rehab his draft stock.
Only fate would have a much different cruel twist in mind.
Austin was injured on the interception and remained down on the turf as his teammates celebrated around him. Everyone feared the worst.
But after he was able to walk off the field, it seemed as if Austin was in the clear. He even stood on the sideline running full-speed sprints while head coach Chris Ash insisted that he was held back for precautionary reasons and nothing else.
The tests would reveal another torn ACL that would end Austin’s senior season after just one game.
Two torn ACL’s in as many years. Five games played over his final two collegiate seasons. And for a player who was once one of the most promising cornerbacks in the country, he had seen his draft stock all but vanish.
Leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, it was unclear if Austin would hear his name called at all. After all, the medical red flags were bright red and scouts really hadn’t seen him play very much in two season.
Five game tapes in two years are hardly anything to analyze.
But the New York Jets took a chance on the talented cornerback selecting him in the sixth round at pick No. 196 overall — a far cry from the top-50 talk that had once been said about him.
It was a bit of a homecoming for the Queens native who had played his college ball less than two hours south in Piscataway, New Jersey. But before he could even think about stepping foot on an NFL field, anther rehabilitation period was in order.
Only this time, the process would be even more vigorous and physically-demanding than his last.
The Jets drafted Austin fully aware that 2019 could wind up being a redshirt season for the young 23-year-old. But Austin fought hard and was committed to returning this year, unwilling to let yet another season go to waste.
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New York placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list to begin the year and just this past week, they were faced with a decision. Either activate him now or place him on the season-ending injured reserve.
They chose the former.
His return comes at a crucial time for the team too with Trumaine Johnson on the injured reserve and Darryl Roberts unlikely to play. It’s currently unclear who is expected to start opposite Nate Hairston on the outside when the team takes the field on Sunday.
While it’s unknown exactly what role Austin may play this week, it doesn’t really matter.
This is the culmination of two years of extensive rehabilitation. The apogee of over 700 days worth of grief and tragedy that will mark the conclusion of a lifelong journey to one day play in the NFL.
And it will be happening mere hours from where his football career was born.
But while the chapter of his journey to full health will hopefully be concluded, a new chapter of his NFL journey is just beginning.