That is, until this week.
Sapp was elevated to the Jets 53-man roster on Thursday, bringing him to what could potentially be his first NFL snap this Sunday in Seattle in what is now his third year in the league. The difficulties all began his junior year at Clemson when towards the end of the year he had an ACL injury and rushed back from surgery to play his senior season. He was solid that year but his showing at the NFL Combine was rather ordinary and he went undrafted. Sapp nonetheless was taken in the fifth round by the Eagles but he came into the league “not 100 percent.” With hindsight he can now say that “I probably should have red-shirted the year after my injury to get healthy.” He was still very much plagued by that injury.
He then spent his first year in the league on the Injured Reserve and his second year, the season where the offseason was lost due to the lockout, saw him get hurt and cut again. That’s when Sapp became “a true professional.”
“I went back to Clemson and focused on training and rehabbing. Trying to get healthy but also trying to get better,” Sapp told The Jets Blog. “That’s when I really became more of a professional and changed my approach. I saw professionals, great role models like Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace on the Jets and how they approached things. I had to grow as a man and as a player and I looked to guys like that.”
He would see time on the Jets practice squad last year and was briefly elevated to the 53-man roster late in the season. The future was beginning to look bright.
Sapp continued to improve but a high ankle sprain this past summer stunted his development. Another injury, another chance at the 53-man roster squandered. Still, the Jets kept him around and his patience and hard work was rewarded when he was elevated to the team this week.
He’s showing signs of being a true professional, including rave reviews from the offensive linemen he battles with in practice.
“Ricky has fought some injuries in training camp and has had some ups and downs. He was on the street and came back with a great attitude. He has done a great job for us on the scout team,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “You can ask [left tackle] Brick [D’Brickashaw Ferguson] and [right guard] Austin Howard. They think he’s ready to play. I think they’ll agree with it."
His moment is here and Sapp admits that he hasn’t yet begun to savor exactly what being in the NFL on a 53-man roster feels like; he’s just too focused on making sure he sticks around.
“You think about being in a storm and coming out of it,” Sapp said. “That’s how I feel. I feel like now, like now is my time.”
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo!Sports. He can be followed for news, insight and snarky comments @KristianRDyer.