You know you can ball. You know you belong. You’ve dreamed that NFL dream since you were 8 years old playing for the Lynvet Cardinals and growing up in Springfield Gardens rooting for the Giants.
But then the cruel football gods kneecap you. Not once, but twice.
What a long and often dark and lonely road it was, 14 months without the game you love. But you never gave up. You wrote this uplifting story of perseverance.
And now you’re a New York Jets cornerback, big and physical and smart and fast enough and prideful and driven, and the doubters who never believed you’d make it back? Where are they now?
“I don’t pay attention to them,” Bless Austin said. “I pretty much ignore ’em …”
He interrupts the thought.
“Days when I feel like I’m getting a little bit complacent, I go look for the comments where people were doubting me,” the Queens product told The Post. “I go search for them. I go search for them and save ’em, I save ’em on my phone. Every time I get a little bit of complacency sneaking in, I go look at it and just remind myself, ‘Your job is nowhere near done.’ That mindset alone keeps me grounded.”
The doubters are buried inside his cellphone.
“Every negative comment,” Austin said, “I screenshot and put on my phone.”
“I remember somebody had commented, ‘I don’t know why the Jets took this guy, he barely has a leg.’ That’s one thing I’ve seen, and that pretty much stung. Even thinking about it now pretty much gets me angry,” Austin said.
“I had one guy say, why would they take me after three knee surgeries? It wasn’t even three, it was two!”
Steve Austin, who played semipro football in Brooklyn, is his proud father.
“He used that as a fuel,” his dad said. “As crazy as it sounds, he used that as a remembrance to get himself right.”
The first torn ACL came early in the 2017 season, when he was a junior at Rutgers.
“It was very dark, man, ’cause I was also in school at the same time, and I was housemates with some of my teammates and they were still playing,” Austin recalled. “So days we’d have practice, they’re at practice, I’m in the house or I was in class, I had taken an extra class. I was pretty much a student at that point.”
Steve Austin: “We’re a close-knit family. When the injury occurred, we made it our duty to reach out to him and let him it’s how you bounce back.”
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The second torn ACL, in the 2018 opener, wasn’t as devastating.
“I wasn’t lower than the first time I got hurt ’cause I went through it before,” Austin said.
Not that long ago he was a wide-eyed fan looking up at Eli Manning on the Super Bowl float at the Canyon of Heroes parade. The Jets drafted him in the sixth round.
“It was bittersweet,” Bless Austin said. “It was sweet because it was a blessing to be able to be drafted to the New York Jets, play for my hometown. But it was bitter as well ’cause how far I dropped in the draft. There was video and a whole bunch of footage out there to prove how healthy I was. Certain teams didn’t believe in me. That will be a chip that will always be on my shoulder. I just thank this organization for believing in me and trusting that I’ll get back to full strength and be able to help out the team somehow some way.”
In his second NFL game, Sunday against the Redskins, Pro Football Focus graded him (77.2), the Jets best defensive player.
“I made a decision after the first time I got hurt, don’t come back and then plan on being an average player out there,” Austin said. “You go through two knee surgeries, you don’t try to get back just to be an average Joe out there. You come back, you’re trying to be one of the best out there.”
It killed him being a helpless spectator in training camp as he still wasn’t 100 percent recovered from surgery. But he returned to practice in mid-October and began team drills at the start of the month, getting everyone’s attention on the first day.
“I noticed a couple of things,” Demaryius Thomas told The Post. “It kinda reminded me of Antonio Cromartie back in the day — long arms, got speed, good at the line, with their hands, sneaky with the off jam because his arm’s so long, and he can run with you. He’s young, so he’s still learning, but he picks up things fast. I think he’s gonna be great, he’s just gotta stay healthy.”
What Thomas also noticed is that Austin is not lacking for confidence.
“At all … at all,” Thomas said. “First day out at practice, he came out, you know, press. Coming off a knee you’re thinking, ‘All right, I’m gonna take it easy today.’ And I remember one play I was going up to block him, and he came and hit me right in the face! Usually in practice I’m fired up already, but he did that I got fired up even more. I liked it. He’s becoming a pro early and becoming one fast.”
Austin, 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, he should match up well with towering Raiders receiver Tyrell Williams when Oakland comes to MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
“He’s a competitor. We’re excited to have him there. He brings a lot of swagger,” Jamal Adams said.
Austin wants the ball to be thrown his way; he’ll welcome Derek Carr testing him.
“I was an aggressive guy in the field, but nowhere near as I am now,” Bless Austin said. “I feel like it’s no reason to be afraid of anything at all. I’ve been through enough, so at this point it’s just I can’t go down from here at all. I’ve been to rock bottom, so now it’s just taking off.”
The doubters have been intercepted. Bless his heart.