Greg Van Roten grew up a New York Jets fan in Rockville Centre and Baldwin and always looked forward to attending training camp at Hofstra and catching some games at the Meadowlands.
Come September, the 30-year-old guard who made 27 starts for Carolina over the past two seasons will fulfill a lifelong dream of playing for Gang Green after officially signing a three-year contract April 2.
“The Jets got involved in the free agency process early and I knew it was going to be difficult to entertain any other offers,” said Van Roten, a 2008 Chaminade High School graduate who lives in Long Beach. “They were targeting me and showed they wanted me right away,” he added. “I’m excited for the day I can get over to the facility and meet the staff and get back to football,” he added.
Van Roten started playing at the youth level with the Baldwin Bombers as a fourth- and fifth-grader before moving to Rockville Centre. He was the quarterback of South Side’s Middle School team for two years and had aspirations of continuing at the position in high school. “Once the coaches noticed my size, I didn’t throw the ball once at Chaminade,” he joked.
Undrafted out of the University of Pennsylvania, Van Roten bounced around before finding stability with Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder signed a rookie deal with Green Bay and spent two years there, appearing in 10 games. He was one of Seattle’s final cuts in 2014 and then headed north of the border, playing for Toronto in the Canadian Football League in 2015 and 2016.
“Going to the CFL helped me gain experience and confidence,” he said. “To become a better football player, you need to play. I learned a lot and did everything I could to give myself another opportunity in the NFL.”
Carolina gave him that chance in 2017. After playing mostly special teams in his first season with the Panthers, Van Roten cracked the starting lineup and enjoyed a breakthrough 2018. He started all 16 games at left guard and was on track to repeat the feat a year ago before a toe injury sent him to injured reserve with five games remaining.
Pro Football Focus named Van Roten the Panthers’ most improved player following last season and ranked him 15th among left guards. He’s one of a handful of offensive line additions made by Jets general manager Joe Douglas.
After agreeing to terms, Van Roten took to Twitter and wrote “I’m coming home. #TakeFlight,” followed by a childhood Halloween photo with him dressed in a Jets uniform. Soon he’ll get to wear the same colors as some of his all-time favorites, such as center Kevin Mawae, quarterback Vinny Testaverde, and wide receivers Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson.
“Putting on that uniform and running out of the tunnel for the first regular-season home game will be a special moment,” Van Roten said. “It’s hard to imagine.”