This is the first of a series of posts detailing certain players on the Jets who some would characterize as “long shots,” in respect to either their chances of making the team or even making it to the NFL for that matter. The first of such is a player whose story you may or may not be familiar with, diminutive cornerback and hero of the 2011 season-opener, Isaiah Trufant. I had the chance to catch up with Isaiah after the Jets most recent OTA practice:
Many of you may know Trufant as the little guy flying around on special teams, the one who scooped and scored the Jets to a win over the Cowboys on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, or as Marcus’ little brother. However, his road to the NFL was a long and arduous one, reminiscent of a modern-day “Rudy” but such is life as a 5″7, 160 pound defensive back trying to make it in professional football.
Trufant’s journey started about 30 miles southwest of Seattle in the city of Tacoma, WA, where he grew up playing alongside his older brother, Marcus who is two years older and is a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. “Since Marcus and I are two years apart, I always looked up to him as a big brother and a role model both on and off the field. I modeled my game primarily after his as well as guys I grew up watching like Deion Sanders,” said Trufant.
During his high school days at Woodrow Wilson H.S., he was a two-way player, playing both defensive back and running back. By all accounts he was a more than capable running back as well given his speed, “I was a pretty speedy guy and I think people would say that I was pretty good back there.” However, he was unable to catch the eye of any real collegiate football powers and only had two scholarship offers on the table coming out of high school, one of which was Division 1-AA, Eastern Washington and the other being Division II Central Washington. Ultimately, Trufant opted for Eastern Washington: “They only offered me a partial scholarship at Eastern Washington and I had to earn my full scholarship.” After having to red shirt his freshman year, the guy that most schools spurned or over-looked because of his size went on to earn his full scholarship at Eastern Washington and became a stand-out as a four-year starter. “Being a four-year starter is what kind of paved the way for me to begin to get noticed. Making plays in college opened up some eyes and helped me get noticed by scouts a little bit but it’s tough being a small guy because you tend to get overlooked just because of your size.”
After his senior season at Eastern Washington, Trufant had what he called “a very good workout” at his pro day but NFL scouts still failed to take notice as he went undrafted and did not even receive an invite to a pro camp. Without any real professional offers and a resilient dream of some day playing in the NFL, Trufant went on to play in the Arena Football League’s developmental league, AF2, as a member of the Spokane Shock in 2007. So determined was Trufant to continue his football career that he spent three seasons in Arena Football playing for three different teams, the aforementioned Shock as well as the Kansas City Command and then the Arizona Rattlers.
While he was making a career for himself in arena football, the AFL cancelled the 2009 season a midst financial difficulties. Luckily for Trufant, the same season in which he would have been job-less also happened to be the inaugural season of the United Football League (UFL), which has described itself as a developmental league of sorts for the NFL. After receiving a tryout with the Jim Fassel- coached Las Vegas Locomotives , they signed him and he spent his first season primarily as a nickel back.”I thought I made some pretty good plays with them my first year.” The Locomotives took notice and Trufant became one of the team’s starting corners. “We won two championships during my time there and in my second season I was actually named Defensive Player of the Year in the UFL.” It was at that point the NFL finally began to take notice and the Jets brought him in for a tryout during week 12 of the 2010 regular season and signed him to the practice squad.
After only five weeks of being the NFL, at the age of 28, Trufant was able to see his dream of playing in the NFL unfold in front of his eyes as he saw his first game action in the 2010 season finale at home against the Buffalo Bills. “I can’t tell you how excited and riled up I was to play that game and I was happy with how it went, I felt like I played pretty well considering it was my first NFL game.” The Jets brass saw enough out of Trufant that they activated him for their AFC Wild Card bout against the Colts as well as their shocking win over New England in the Divisional Round where he saw action primarily on special teams. Things appeared as though they were looking up for the 28-year old rookie until the Jets decided to cut him during the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. ” That was a big blow for me, being released before the team’s biggest game with an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl on the line. I went home with no idea of what was going to happen next.”
“Fortunately for me, the Philadelphia Eagles picked me up off of waivers but then the lockout hit. I really didn’t know what was going on, I knew that I was signed but because I didn’t really have much experience in the NFL I didn’t know what the future was going to hold for me with the lockout. I was left with the prospect of having to find another way of making a living if the season ended up being cancelled.” Once the lockout ended, Trufant went to training camp with the Eagles, making it through several rounds of cuts until he was faced with a familiar scenario as he was released in week 4 of the pre-season. As fate would have it that was the same week the Eagles were scheduled to play the Jets in the preseason finale. “It was crazy, I was cut by the Eagles and then the next day the Jets picked me up and before I knew it I was playing against the Eagles in week 4 of the preseason. I actually saw a lot of action in that game and ended up making the team.”
Fast forward ten days later, Trufant finds himself active for the highly anticipated Jets vs Cowboys Sunday Night match-up on the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. With the Jets down 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, Mike Westhoff dialed up a a punt block, which Trufant then “scooped and scored” for his first NFL touchdown in a huge moment to tie the game at 24. He described it as being “A wild moment in my life and in my career, to be able to do that in a huge game and a huge stage. It was a big moment personally just because of the fight I went through in order to make it to the NFL, just having the opportunity to be put in a situation to make plays on a stage like that was just huge for me.” Trufant ended up getting the game ball, which he says is now sitting on the mantel in his house.
When asked about what kept him motivated throughout his journey, he responded “Just not giving up on my dream as well as my family who supported me 100% throughout.” Trufant summed up best by saying: “No two people will be exactly the same physically in regard to height, weight, or build so regardless of what size you are so for me I’ve just had to use what I’ve been given and hope that it’s enough.” To this point it appears as though it has been enough as he was active for the duration of the 2011 season and continues to make plays on the practice field and in games. So here’s to a long shot that has broken the mold in terms of what it takes to be successful in the NFL and who continues to live out a dream that he fought so hard to attain.