Well-traveled Poteat finds home with Jets

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) – Hank Poteat has gotten used to keeping his luggage within easy reach.

The veteran cornerback has been waived seven times in his seven professional seasons, including three times this year, and hasn’t stayed with one team for an entire season since 2002. Poteat is an NFL nomad – with a Super Bowl ring and big-game credentials.

“It all depends on the person,” Poteat said. “You’re either going to grow from it or you’re going to continue to take it as a negative and just go under from there.”

The well-traveled Poteat has suddenly found a home with the New York Jets.

“I can’t be mad at any of those situations because all things work together and it’s helped me to be the person that I am now, and helped me be the player that I am now,” the 29-year-old Poteat said. “Maybe if I never got cut, I might not be this guy now.”

Poteat has started at right cornerback for the Jets, after starting just twice in his first six-plus seasons.

“Each and every time I work out, when I’m training, I’m never training to be just in the NFL or training to just be part of the team,” he said. “I always train to be the best and training to be a starter. This is a reward for all my hard work and dedication and persevering and never giving up on myself.”

That could’ve been easy to do, especially early in his career. Poteat was selected by the Steelers out of the University of Pittsburgh in the third round of the 2000 draft and played 15 games as a rookie. He was a solid player mainly on special teams for three years and helped the Steelers to the playoffs in 2002, but they waived him late in training camp before the next season.

“It turned my life around completely,” Poteat said. “You never think you’re going to get cut. You always hear those things, especially when you’re drafted and you go to the rookie symposium, they give you statistics on who’s going to be here a certain amount of years. You never believe that’s going to be you until it hits you smack in the face. Then, you’re sitting out watching.”

And waiting.

Poteat was out of work for nearly two months until Tampa Bay called. He played in one game for the Buccaneers, who waived him with a few weeks left in the season. Carolina then signed him, but cut him shortly before the 2004 season.

Then came more waiting. An entire regular season went by – and nothing.

“I just continued to work hard and believed I could play and I knew I had to do something better,” Poteat said.

Then, like something out of a feel-good Disney movie, Poteat got a call from New England during the playoffs. The Patriots were short-handed in their secondary and Poteat played in all three postseason games – including the Super Bowl victory over Carolina.

“When I first came into the NFL, being young and inexperienced, I didn’t do all the things that I needed to be a professional,” Poteat said. “I believe when I got cut the first time – and I’ve been cut a lot – when you’re out, you learn to understand the things you should’ve done to stay in this league.”

But that didn’t prevent him from being cut again – four more times. The Patriots waived him at the end of training camp last year, re-signed him in Week 6, and cut him again this summer.

Jets coach Eric Mangini, who worked with Poteat in New England last year, got New York to sign him on Sept. 1. Poteat played against Philadelphia in a preseason game that night, but was waived the next day.

He ended up back with the Patriots after Week 3 and played in two games before returning to the unemployment line for a day. Then, the Jets re-signed him.

“To be honest with you, I did think that I was going to be here,” Poteat said. “I felt good about my performance that night I was here. I knew that wasn’t in my control. I felt good leaving that I actually went out there and worked hard and did what I was able to do.”

Mangini was impressed with how Poteat handled himself on and off the field, and how he has brought some stability to a position that was in flux earlier this season.

“I’ve always respected his approach,” Mangini said. “He has done some traveling, but no matter where he shows up, when he gets there, he’s ready to work.”

AP-ES-12-20-06 2007EST

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