J.K. Schaffer is playing for his hometown NFL team these days, but it didn't happen overnight. Schaffer, who posted at least one hundred tackles in three consecutive years at the University of Cincinnati, didn't find success in college because he was the biggest or the fastest linebacker -- he wasn't. He achieved his success with hard work, a nose for the football, and through his abilities as a natural leader on his team.
Schaffer was dubbed a two-star recruit and ultimately made is way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While in Jacksonville, Schaffer impressed but ultimately found himself out of a job. In November, the Bengals signed Schaffer to their practice squad. On Thursday, Schaffer played with the same determination he put on display in his three years starting for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. was able to get a few words with Schaffer on his evening under the Georgia Dome lights as he and the Bengals faced the Atlanta Falcons:
"I feel like the good ole days...Out there not thinking so much like I do in practice most of the time. Try not to make mistakes but just out there running around and feeling like a football player again, just my first time being able to do that in about a year."
Schaffer led the Bengals with a combined six tackles on Thursday evening. He also was a crucial component of the touchdown that wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher returned for 71 yards. Schaffer was able to provide a key block that opened up Sanzenbacher's lane as he sprinted to the end zone.
"I saw him screaming down the field and tried to put everything I had into him. (Jazquizz and James Rodgers) are stocky, strong dudes, they are pretty stout, so I about knocked my own helmet off but it is all worth it when you see your guy running down the field about to score. It was a great feeling, I think I had butterflies at that point."
Schaffer isn't letting the past cloud the opportunities he has in front of him. He's fully aware that a promising preseason doesn't always lead to a roster spot. 2012 taught him that lesson in Jacksonville, and he's using the experience as motivation today in Cincinnati.
"Last preseason with the way that whole deal went you might as well put a tattoo on my shoulder of the chip that I've been playing with and been feeling the last year," he said. "I'll never forget that and that will continue to drive me, that's for sure."