There is a photo of Mike Catapano somewhere in his parents home in Long Island, taken when he was eight years old, posed next to former New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. He grew up a Jets fan, he says, "bleeding green and white," the photo from when he attended training camp at Hofstra one summer.
Now after being signed by the Jets on Tuesday to their practice squad, Catapano is living his boyhood dream. On Wednesday, the former seventh round pick out of Princeton got his chance to practice with the team as he hopes to prove himself ready for what he hopes will be a role on the roster someday.
But even as big as the opportunity to play for his childhood team is, he is also playing for the right to prove himself out on the field. Catapano has a chance to reclaim his career after sitting out 2014 with what was originally called by the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that had drafted him then cut him last week, as a "mysterious illness." His rookie season in 2013 showed some chops, appearing in 15 games but with expectations to become a part of the two-deep the next season, Catapano was forced to sit the year out.
He was showing symptoms of not feeling well with what at the time the team referred as a "mysterious illness" and placed him on IR, uncertain of what was affecting their second-year player. He went through a battery of tests, pokings and proddings at New York University Hospital as well as the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh. Two months after being placed on IR, the Chiefs organization revealed that Catapano had a gastrointestinal-based virus as well as a concussion. The concussion was suffered in training camp but it was the virus that really caused Catapano to double-over.
"I was just sick, really sick," Catapano told Metro.
"I was sick and then it turned out I had the concussion as well which might have been attributed to those two things."
The ordeal of the virus and the concussion are behind him now with Catapano focused on making it with his childhood team.
His position is best described as consistently being in flux. In high school he was a fullback then moved to linebacker in college at Princeton, a position change that certainly worked as he was an All-American as well as an All-Ivy League selection. When the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft, it was as a defensive end.
Then he moved to linebacker before being moved back to defensive end. Whew. But the moves may not be over now that he is with the green and white.
"Hopefully I'll be a part of this defense one way or another. Whether that is as a defensive lineman or an outside linebacker or whatever," Catapano said. "I like that this is an aggressive, up the field defense."
After being cut by the Chiefs, or as he calls it "having the carpet pulled out from under me," Catapano's first tryout was with the Jets. He flew to New Jersey on Monday night and then had a workout on Tuesday morning. He ran and did positional drills with defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
The workout lasted an hour and also included a physical from the team's medical staff.
"I thought I had a good preseason in Kansas City, hitting the quarterback a little bit and doing some things. Just taking a step forward, luckily I don't have to take any time off," Catapano said. "I can step into a new system with a clean slate."
A new system, a clean slate but a team that has been his for the entirety of his life.
"I love this team. I grew up living for the green and white," Catapano said. "I've been a fan for life."