FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Dylan Donahue feels fortunate to have a second chance.
At football. And, most of all, at life.
The New York Jets linebacker knew he needed to make some major changes this offseason after making a decision that nearly cost him everything.
The 25-year-old Donahue was arrested and charged with drunken driving early on Feb. 26 after police say he drove the wrong way in the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey and collided with a jitney bus, injuring four people.
“I’m a firm believer in God,” Donahue said after practice Tuesday. “I was born and raised Christian and I believe that He saved me and the other people that were involved.”
Donahue “definitely” considered the incident a wake-up call, and soon after checked himself into a substance-abuse treatment facility in Jacksonville, Florida, after his second DUI arrest in less than a year. Donahue, a fifth-round pick last year out of West Georgia, had another DUI arrest in his hometown of Billings, Montana, on May 9, 2017 — 10 days after he was drafted by the Jets.
“That was a major factor in why I decided to go down for treatment,” he said.
Donahue spent 30 days at an in-patient facility, working to become sober.
“It was very enlightening,” he said. “I went through a lot. … I think it was a life-changing experience. So, it was very awakening and life-changing this offseason.”
He fully embraced the idea of going to rehab, something he hadn’t previously considered.
“It wasn’t necessarily a scary experience,” Donahue said. “I was honestly kind of excited because I was ready to make some life changes.”
Donahue also sought out former Jets teammate Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who spoke openly last season about his recovery from alcohol abuse. The tight end, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, detailed his own steps to Donahue and gave him hope that he, too, could make drastic positive changes.
“He actually helped a lot,” Donahue said. “Seeing someone else do it, especially someone on the same team as you, that definitely built my confidence.”
Donahue says he has cut out alcohol from his life, and has seen noticeable changes.
“My mind feels a lot clearer,” he said. “I’m able to remember things a lot better and think a lot clearer. Physically, too. I’ve gained a little bit of weight and last year, that was kind of a problem for me, keeping on the weight. So, there’s a lot of benefits.”
He declined to discuss how much of a problem alcohol was for him. He also chose to not talk about details of the car accidents since they’re legal matters. The second-year linebacker could also face discipline by the NFL as part of its personal conduct policy.
When Donahue went for treatment, the Jets publicly stood by him and said he had a support system with the team when he returned. That was a relief to Donahue, who was uncertain as to how the Jets would deal with the situation.
“I think anyone worries when something like that happens,” he said, “so, yeah, I was definitely worried.”
He acknowledged that he was surprised by how many people stood by him during that time.
“In situations like that, you really find out who your friends are,” he said. “It was a definite wakeup call.”
Donahue is back with his teammates on the practice field, looking to become a contributor on New York’s defense.
He played in only four games last season after tearing a ligament in his right elbow while blocking on a punt return late in overtime against Jacksonville on Oct. 1. He had season-ending surgery and said the elbow is now healthy.
“He’s got his head down,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s working. He’s working on some personal things, obviously, that he told you guys (about). He’s just working hard every day trying to get the system down and we’ll see what comes of it when everything comes to a head.”
Donahue knows he needs to re-establish trust with his family, friends, teammates and coaches — and it will take time. His father, Mitch, played for Denver and San Francisco during a four-year NFL career, so he knows he needs to make the most of this opportunity.
Both on and off the field.
“It’s definitely more motivation,” Donahue said. “This has been my dream since I watched my Dad play in the NFL since I was born, so to get another chance at it means the world to me.”
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