BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- The New York Jets are amidst a culture change. At least, that is the buzzword people are using to describe its most recent roster changes. The Jets will find themselves entering the 2017-2018 season without many of their seasoned, dependable veterans: Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Breno Giacomini, Nick Folk, and more. However, a tower of strength still stands tall amidst the smoldering rubble in East Rutherford (yes: a historical reference to Sherman’s March and the subsequent burning of Atlanta). Its name? David Harris. He, a second round draft pick in 2007, is entering his 11th season wearing New York Green. Harris has seen it all and, like a general, is leading the Jets in a cultural revolution, one small step at a time.
Head coach of the Jets, Todd Bowles, told me that Harris’ golf outing was the first event in the newfound change of culture outside of their training facility. He told me: “I think any time we have a player doing something that’s inventive and creative in the community, trying to help people, we try to help them out a lot. David’s been a pillar on our team and a pillar in the community so everything we can do for him we’re trying to do. We came out to support him… It’s important for everybody to show up.” In fact, over 50 Jets players and coaches were in attendance, supporting Harris, at Green Brook Country Club in North Caldwell, NJ. “It’s a good cause, so my teammates are just trying to support me and everything we are trying to accomplish [for Camp Hope]”, Harris said.
THE NEWEST JETS
Arguably the most important role players in the Jets’ culture change are its youngest stars. Despite meeting Harris for the first time earlier that morning, Jamal Adams, Gang Green’s 2017 first-round (6th overall) draft pick, was in attendance. “[I’m] excited to be here”. He told me: “We definitely just want to come out and support our teammate, support the cause. It’s definitely set up the right way: First class. Not only is [Harris] a great football player, he’s a great man off the field”. As I watched a Draft Day special on Adams, on the first day he arrived in Florham Park, I saw him go out of his way to shake a secretary’s hand and introduce himself to her. That was a ‘first class’ move by the young star. He told me: “As a rookie, I just want to come in, earn the respect of the locker room, earn the respect of my coaching staff and just do whatever they ask me to do… just [do] the little things the right way. That’s definitely what it’s about”. I think Adams’ character and attitude will make him a perfect fit amidst the Jets’ cultural revolution.
Christian Hackenberg, the Jets’ 2016 second round (51st overall) draft pick, admittedly told me his golf game wasn’t up-to-par. “It’s alright. You gotta look the part sometimes!” Even still, he came to support Harris because “Dave’s a guy that does it the right way from a football standpoint. [He] think[s] [Harris] … really uses [the] platform that he’s gotten through his play to impact … and help others.” Juxtaposing his career and Harris’, Hackenberg added: I think [it’s] super cool as a young guy coming into the league and seeing a guy whose in year 10+ be able to do these types of things…. It’s admirable and I think it’s a great example for the younger guys.” Himself, included.
As far as changing the Jets’ culture, Hackenberg, over the past year, has developed an idea of his own: “I think [I] really want to make it a blue collar, hardworking environment. That’s my background. My parents raised me and my three younger brothers that way. I went to Penn State and that was the expectation there. So I think that’s never changed everywhere I’ve been. It’s really cool to see an organization doing that not just for me, but in general because I feel that’s the right way to do it. Nothing’s given, everything’s earned. I think that, especially at this level, that’s very valuable.”
Doing ‘all the little things right’ in a ‘blue collar, hardworking environment’ is a sure-fire recipe for success.
THE JETS VETERANS
There was also a heavy veteran presence at Harris’ 8th annual golf outing, including home-grown Jets defender Muhammad Wilkerson and offensive weapon Eric Decker. The veterans are also subscribing to the change-of-culture movement.
Wilkerson candidly talked to me about the changes necessary in and around the locker room. “It’s just the way things went last year & coming into this off-season, what coach talked to us about, it needs to be a change in culture. Guys know what’s expected of themselves, coaches know what’s expected, they know what they have to do. Us, as players, know what we have to do. We just want to build a different type of environment and a different culture down in Florham Park”.
In supporting Harris at his golf outing, Wilkerson, the Jets’ 2011 first-round (30th overall) told me: “It’s great. As a team, we’re brothers, it’s always good to come out and support our brothers … for them to raise money for their causes so it’s always good to come out, show support, and just enjoy the day.” Wilkerson added that his foundation, T.E.A.M. 96, will be hosting events in early June (more info available on his website).
Speaking to Harris’ leadership and commitment to the New York Jets, it seems as though attending Harris’ golf outing was a no-brainer for wide receiver Eric Decker. “Tell you what, David is a stand-up guy, he’s Mr. New York Jets, so this has been an annual thing, I know, for him to just come here, support him, his cause… that’s what it’s all about”. Decker and his wife, country star Jessie James Decker, have established the Eric and Jessie Foundation. A special branch of their foundation is Decker’s Dogs, a charity that trains service dogs and pairs them with a deserving United States military veteran. About this, Decker told me: “Any way to give back to a community. To be at the professional level, to have the voice that we all have, I think it’s important to, whatever is close to you, to support that cause, to really push it, to give awareness and it’s been really eye-opening for me and just heartwarming to be able to give my time, give my energy and try to spread the word for Decker’s Dogs”.
Harris spoke to me about the importance meaningfulness of his teammates participating in his annual fundraiser. “Like you said, we are trying to change the culture here at the Jets and the older guys, including myself, are trying to take charge and make sure we are setting the right examples for the young guys, new players who are coming from different teams teams, and the rookies, who are just coming in today for the first time that we got a chance to meet. We are just trying to start everything off right and go into this off-season, OTAs, and minicamp clicking on all cylinders.”
It is clear that the veterans in the Jets locker room, at least those present at Harris’ annual golf outing, are whole-heartedly supporting each others’ causes. The fact that so many of them have established foundations to support their own positive causes is undoubtedly the “type” of player the Jets are willing to retain during their cultural revolution. Their efforts are nothing but positive influences on young players like Hackenberg and Adams.
If its a culture change the Jets are after, players should follow Harris’ lead. His annual golf outing, fundraising dinner, and charity auction was another great success this year, undoubtedly brightening the summers of campers at Camp Hope in West Milford, New Jersey. As Harris explained to me, this year’s objective was to “raise money to renovate some of the outdoor play spaces at Camp Hope in West Milford.” He added: “We are trying to raise money and help sponsor underprivileged kids go to camp for free.”
For more information, including highlights of this year’s David Harris Annual Golf Outing, visit: http://givethekidshope.org/.