FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Austin Seferian-Jenkins is going back to Tampa Bay a different person than the one who left there just over a year ago.
The New York Jets tight end is a changed man, both mentally and physically. He's beating the personal demons that threatened to derail his NFL career and, more importantly, his life.
"Unfortunately, I had to go down some pretty crappy roads and I had to go through some unfortunate things, all by my choice," Seferian-Jenkins said.
"But all the bridges I burned brought me here to be a New York Jet, to be in the best city in the world, best organization in the league, the best coaches. It's really phenomenal how life works."
Seferian-Jenkins was a disappointment when the Buccaneers parted ways with him following a DUI arrest in September 2016, capping a tumultuous time during which he wondered whether football would even be an option again.
Looking back now, he has no regrets about how things played out.
"It was a tough time in my life, it was a dark time in my life, and I give myself a lot of credit for pulling myself out of it and making adjustments and changes and being where I'm at today," Seferian-Jenkins said.
"That's really the cool thing to look back on. Obviously, things didn't go well. It wasn't how I wanted things to go and not how they wanted things to go, but we can't rewrite the past. We can only write our futures and that starts here being in the present moment.
"God, it feels good to be a Jet."
It took a lot of hard work for Seferian-Jenkins to reach this point, where he could look back on his mistakes and know that they helped set up the success he is having today.
He leads the Jets with a career-high 33 receptions for 221 yards and three touchdowns despite missing the first two games of the season because of a suspension that stemmed from his time with the Buccaneers.
He'll step on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the first time as an opponent — with a chance to get a measure of revenge on Tampa Bay for giving up on him.
"I was thinking about this the other day: Am I going to feel some type of way about it? Will I want to do a little extra?" Seferian-Jenkins said. "But that's not me. I'm going to prepare the same way that I always prepare."
He was a second-round draft pick of the Buccaneers in 2014 out of the University of Washington, expected to become a key part of Tampa Bay's offense.
Instead, he struggled on and off the field.
"I had off-the-field issues and I understand I didn't hold up my end of the bargain," Seferian-Jenkins said.
There were questions about his mental approach, and concerns about being out of shape. Alcohol was a big problem, and it all came to a head with the arrest in Florida.
"When someone gives up on you, they believe you won't get better and that you can't pull yourself out of whatever hole you're in," Seferian-Jenkins said.
"To be here, standing here, competing at the level I am, playing on such a great team, that in itself is a win and says they were wrong. That in itself says they were wrong. That in itself speaks volumes about my character. That speaks volumes of this organization, that they can bring a guy in like myself and help mold me into what I'm today."
After coming to the Jets a few days after being cut, Seferian-Jenkins began working on improving himself. He sought help for his alcohol addiction and began taking his health more seriously.
Seferian-Jenkins had minimal impact as a player last season for the Jets, finishing with just 10 catches for 110 yards in seven games while also dealing with hamstring issues.
But he showed promise, both on the field and off, and New York wanted him to stick around this season in new coordinator John Morton's offense. He dropped more than 30 pounds and has been sober since early last winter.
"What you're doing in essence is trying to invest in the person, but of course he's the one who has to do the heavy lifting and he's done that," general manager Mike Maccagnan said.
"But honestly when you see where he is in terms of not only what he's done on the field but just as a person, it's actually something you feel very good about. Those are issues he's going to deal with the rest of his life, but we'll be as supportive as we can of him to help him with anything he needs."
Seferian-Jenkins has gone from troubled talent to inspirational fan favorite. He regularly posts positive messages on his Instagram and Twitter pages, things that help him begin each day — and might help others who are experiencing the kind of tough, dark moments like he dealt with not too long ago.
"I'm thankful I got the help that help put me on this path and I'm going to stay on this path," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to Mike, the upper management, the owner, coaches and my teammates. Those people are instrumental in helping me change. Those guys were right there with me and didn't give up on me as a person and I think that's why I'm playing better than I ever have before.
"I'm going to continue to get better. I'm only 25. It's like a rookie year for me. I'm doing it all over again. I know the best is yet to come for me."