FLORHAM PARK— Doug Middleton thought he was going to be an Eagle. He had a pretty good reason to believe it, too.
See, the Eagles, well, the Eagles told him they were going to draft him.
"They called me the last day of the draft and said it was between another guy and me," Middleton told NJ Advance Media earlier this month. "The last round I was sitting there just thinking it was going to be them."
It wasn't. The Eagles ended up taking that "other guy," LSU cornerback Jalen Mills. Middleton wasn't drafted, and ended up signing with the Jets as a free agent.
This Thursday night, he'll take the field for New York against Philadelphia in preseason game No. 4. Needless to say, he's got a chip on his shoulder.
Middleton has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets this summer. A 5-11, 220-pound physical safety, Middleton made his fair share of plays during training camp. An interception here, a big hit there. He has been just as good in the preseason. In two games —he missed one with a leg injury — Middleton has eight tackles and an interception.
It's still very early, but Middleton looks like he belongs. Not bad for someone who barely got into Appalachian State.
Middleton was born on Sept. 25, 1993. Because of the way Parkland High School in Winston-Salem North Carolina divvied up their kids, he was among the younger in his grade. He graduated high school at 17 years old.
But his age wasn't what kept football programs from seriously pursuing him. It was his weight. Middleton stood the same 5-11 he is now... but weighed only 170 pounds.
"No one wanted me," Middleton said. "I applied to Appalachian State, but they didn't offer. Some smaller schools talked to me like Old Dominion. I verbally committed to Wofford College. The week I had to make my commitment official, a couple of kids dropped out of Appalachian State, so they offered."
Middleton said he chose to attend Appalachian State for three reasons: It was close to home, they had won three national championships, and a handful of the school's players — Brian Quick (Rams), Tony Washington (Jaguars), Ronald Blair (49ers) — were in the NFL. He wanted to be the next name on that list. But he knew if he wanted an NFL career, he needed to beef up a bit.
So, once he got to the school, he beelined for the weight room.
"I spent so much time in there," Middleton said. "I was just a late bloomer with my weight."
Middleton, who said he gained 15 pounds his first season, was named a freshman All-American. He broke his ankle as a true sophomore and was redshirted. He missed most of his redshirt sophomore year, too, with a concussion. When he finally returned to the field as a junior, he was dominant.
In 2014, Middleton had 74 tackles, half a sack, four interceptions and defended six passes. He was named first-team, all-Sun Belt. That set up high expectations for his senior season. Middleton didn't exactly reach them.
"I wasn't getting much attention," Middleton said. "ProFootballFocus.com did a stat: I had the lowest target rating of any safety. In the Sun Belt, if a defense has a dominant player, you can just not throw his way. That's sort of what teams did. We had a good cornerback and me on one side of the field. I just didn't get as many opportunities as I did as a junior."
Middleton had just 53 tackles and no interceptions his senior season. He fell off the radar of NFL teams, and didn't get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. The Jets found him at his Pro Day, kept in contact over the next several months, and towards the end of the draft, called Middleton to see if he'd want to sign with the team as an undrafted free agent.
A lifelong Jets fan, Middleton agreed. Six weeks and three preseason games in, he's impressing the Jets' coaching staff.
"He's playing hard," head coach Todd Bowle said earlier this summer. "He's doing a lot of good things right now. He's learning the system at the same time. It will be exciting to see him play."
But Middleton doesn't want to just impress the coaches. He wants a roster spot. That has been his goal from Day 1. And it's no different now.
The Eagles never gave him a chance. The Jets did. Now he just needs to make the most of it.
"I want to make the 53-man roster," Middleton said. "I don't want to be on the practice squad. I want to be on the real 53. Each day, I'm working towards that goal. Each day, I try to chip away to get closer.
"I think about it every day. Every day. You need to work towards a purpose and a goal. For me, that's what I'm working towards."