FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Doug Middleton was impressing the New York Jets with his playmaking skills last summer when a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the season.
The young safety refused to wallow in disappointment. He hit the books — and his rehabilitation — with fierce determination.
Nearly a year later, Middleton has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State on his resume. He also created a nonprofit in honor of his best friend who took his own life last summer. And, he’s having another terrific training camp while competing for a job in Todd Bowles’ secondary.
“Yeah, I’m proud, very happy,” Middleton said after a recent practice. “I mean, pretty much all that came from me starting my foundation and me having a position whenever football does come to an end, I’m pretty much taken care of. It just handled a lot of different things for me and just made me feel comfortable and more at peace when I’m out here now.”
Middleton, 24, graduated from Appalachian State in May 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He entered the graduate program during his redshirt senior year and started chipping away at his master’s degree with a concentration in town, city and county management.
When he got hurt in the Jets’ preseason opener against Tennessee last August, Middleton wasted no time coming up with a game plan.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said with a big smile. “In the offseason before my second year, I finished my second semester in the program. Once I got hurt, I asked Coach Bowles pretty much the day after they said I was going to be out for the season, I was like, ‘I want to go home and finish my master’s.’
“He said he was cool and told me to just go back home and rehab there and finish school.”
So, Middleton headed to North Carolina and drove what he estimates was about 1,000 miles a week between his home in Winston-Salem to rehab in Charlotte and classes in Boone on campus at Appalachian State.
He spent several hours a day trying to get his body healthy again for football. And, then he was putting in lots of classroom work to earn his master’s degree. Middleton also secured an internship with the city of Charlotte and Charlotte Water.
“A lot of people looked at it like, ‘Oh, he’s on IR. He’s got a vacation,’ ” Middleton said. “It wasn’t really like that.”
Not at all.
Middleton worked with the chief financial officer of Charlotte Water during his internship, regularly taking part in budget meetings. Charlotte Water supplies water to the city and its municipalities, so Middleton had to make sure that guidelines were being followed and helped work on the next budget for the city.
The experience was invaluable to Middleton, who received his master’s degree in May and wants to be a city manager when his football career ends.
And now he’s working on his second master’s degree, this one in finance.
“I came up with this plan about halfway through my senior year,” Middleton said. “I started in the accelerated program for my MPA and I just always had it in the back of my head that you can’t play football forever. No matter if I play 10 years or two years, whenever it happened and came to an end, I’d be on my feet and ready to go. That’s what it’s all been about. I still hope to play 10 years and whatever happens in between, I can really sit back and just enjoy football now.”
He’s certainly playing that way.
Middleton, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, has been a consistent standout during practices this summer while filling in for the injured Marcus Maye with the starters early in camp and also working on special teams.
“Before he got hurt [last year], Doug was coming on,” Bowles said. “Obviously, he’s a swing player — he can play both [safety] spots. Any time you’re a swing player, that makes you valuable. He’s just in the right space at the right time.”
AT A GLANCE
SCORES AND SCHEDULE
Pittsburgh 31, Philadelphia 14 New Orleans 24, Jacksonville 20 Cleveland 20, NY Giants 10 Cincinnati 30, Chicago 27 Carolina 28, Buffalo 23 Tampa Bay 26, Miami 24 Baltimore 33, LA Rams 7 New England 26, Washington 17 Green Bay 31, Tennessee 17 Houston 17, Kansas City 10 Indianapolis at Seattle, (n) Dallas at San Francisco, (n)
All times Central
Atlanta at NY Jets, 6:30 p.m. Detroit at Oakland, 9:30 p.m.
Minnesota at Denver, 8 p.m. LA Chargers at Arizona, 9 p.m.