Jets’ well-traveled Trufant hopes he has NFL home

Isaiah Trufant watched the football bounce in front of him and
waited a split-second to judge where it was going.

Into his hands, the New York Jets defensive back hoped – while
blocking out the 80,000 screaming fans at MetLife Stadium.

”Man, the whole time I was like, ‘Please! Good bounce, good
bounce!”’ Trufant said. ”And then, it bounced good and I just
took it. It was wild, man, just crazy.”

The well-traveled Trufant, promoted from the practice squad 24
hours earlier, completed one of the biggest plays of the Jets’
27-24 season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night by
returning Joe McKnight’s blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown that
tied it with 5 minutes left. It was a lucky bounce for a guy who
has bounced around quite a bit while trying to pursue his NFL
dream.

”He’s an amazing little guy,” coach Rex Ryan said, ”and the
more he plays – he just looks short to me – he doesn’t look small
anymore. He did a great job.”

The diminutive Trufant – he’s generously listed at 5-foot-8 and
170 pounds – went undrafted out of Eastern Washington in 2006 and
has since played in the Arena Football League and the United
Football League, and hopes he now can stick in the NFL. The younger
brother of Seattle’s Marcus Trufant wasn’t even expecting to play
in the opener until the day before the game.

”Man, it was a roller-coaster ride, really,” Trufant said.
”You work hard everyday to hopefully get that opportunity to be
active and when you do, you’ve got to try to take advantage of the
opportunity you have. I was just able to make a play off a great
block.”

The past few weeks have been a bit of a blur to Trufant, who was
in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles this summer, cut on Aug. 30
and signed by the Jets the next day – after taking a cross-country
flight back home to the Seattle area.

”That was a little bit rough,” he said. ”I got in around
midnight and then the next morning around 10 a.m., I received a
call from the Jets to hop on the red-eye that same night and fly
back to the East Coast. It was all appreciated and all worth
it.”

Trufant’s head kept spinning, though, because he was waived by
the Jets three days later, signed to the practice squad the
following day and then elevated to the active roster on
Saturday.

”It’s one of those things where you see we brought him back
last week and you don’t question it because you realize what type
of player he is,” safety Jim Leonhard said. ”That’s what Rex
likes, that’s what (special teams coordinator) Mike Westhoff likes.
They don’t care what you look like. It’s all about production and
passion for the game, and he definitely has that.”

Ryan checks in with the team’s three coordinators about the last
few active spots going into games and nearly had former Cowboys
safety Andrew Sendejo up so he could play against his former
team.

”But at the end of the day, we went with the speed,” Ryan
said. ”And, it was the right move, obviously.”

Ryan raved about Trufant’s effort, which earned him a game ball.
And it wasn’t only about the return.

”The best play wasn’t the touchdown Trufant had, it was on a
kick where he was the first guy down the field,” Ryan said.
”Here’s a guy that is small for Summit (High School) standards,
and he ran down there, hits the wedge, there’s three blockers on
him, and then he goes and makes the tackle.”

That’s the kind of stuff Trufant has had to do his whole career,
playing bigger than he appears – definitely a guy after Leonhard’s
heart.

”He might not look the part, but he’s a football player,” said
Leonhard, who at 5-8 faced similar challenges early in his career.
”It’s great to see people like that that some teams would just
look at height and weight and say, ‘We’ll cross you off the list.’
Rex has done that his whole career, giving guys shots.”

After a solid college career, Trufant played for Spokane, Kansas
City and Arizona in the AFL before going to the UFL in 2009. He won
two UFL championships with the Las Vegas Locomotives, and was
selected as the league’s defensive MVP last fall. Trufant had a
league-record four interceptions, including one in three
consecutive games, along with 30 tackles and a fumble recovery.

That performance earned Trufant a shot with the Jets late last
season, and he made his NFL debut in the regular-season finale
against Buffalo. But he was waived in January and then had to wait
out the lockout to see what the next step in his football journey
would be.

”It’s pretty tough, just the reality of it,” said Trufant, who
has one son and another on the way. ”You’ve really got to hold
onto your money because you never really know what could come from
week to week, and having a family, that also takes a toll.”

Trufant has had several conversations with his brother Marcus, a
former first-round pick in his ninth NFL season who has encouraged
him to keep pursuing his dream no matter the circumstances.
Performances like the one he had Sunday might finally allow him to
call the NFL home.

”It has definitely been crazy, but I’m just riding the wave,”
Trufant said. ”I’m just trying to do what I can to stay active and
be prepared for whatever I need to do. I’m ready for
anything.”