When the Washington Redskins‘ training camp opened, J.T. Mapu was a little more than 2,000 miles away.
Mapu signed with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee in May, but the team cut him June 24 to make room on the roster for seventh-round pick Rob Jackson. So when the Redskins began practice Sunday, the defensive tackle was in Salt Lake City.
When both Phillip Daniels and Alex Buzbee suffered season-ending injuries, the Redskins traded for six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor and re-signed Mapu. He was in church when the Redskins called to offer him not a second chance but a first one.
“I am definitely grateful for this chance, for this opportunity,” Mapu said. “There´s a lot of people out there who never get to step on an NFL field, and here am I at Redskins training camp. [Monday] was rough, but I am going to try to get some rest tonight and prepare myself for tomorrow.”
Mapu’s flight landed at 6:30 a.m. Monday, and he was on the practice field a little more than three hours later.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Mapu was a heralded recruit at Kahuku High School in Hawaii, and he passed on a more traditional route for top players from the island state who play at Pac-10 schools in favor of the SEC. He had a great start to his career with Tennessee, playing in 12 games as a freshman and starting 11 games as a sophomore.
Then he decided to follow his faith. A devout Mormon, Mapu went to Houston on a two-year mission. When he returned to Knoxville, Mapu didn’t become the next great Tennessee defensive tackle - following the likes of John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth - like many associated with the program predicted.
He had 30 tackles in his final two years as a sometime-starter, only four more than he had in his sophomore campaign.
“It was a decision I made as a kid,” Mapu said. “People of our faith go out and share what we believe in. It wasn´t that hard of a decision as many might think it was. It was something that I always wanted to do. Looking back now, sometimes it could have set you back in your career, but the things I gained from that experience I feel will help me a lot more in life.”
While Mapu was on his mission, he helped out Hurricane Katrina victims. He was evacuated from Houston as the storm approached but volunteered after he returned.
“We normally wear our white shirts and ties, but we just went out in regular clothes to give service or help wherever people needed help,” Mapu said. “I think a lot of people were grateful for what we did.”
No Portis in Canton?
Coach Jim Zorn said running back Clinton Portis is not likely to see any action in the team’s preseason opener Aug. 3 against Indianapolis. Portis didn’t play in any preseason games last season because of a knee injury and separated his shoulder in 2006’s first exhibition contest.
Portis stepped on another player’s foot and rolled his ankle during the morning session Tuesday but returned to work in the afternoon. He even had to absorb the hit of camp so far when H.B. Blades and Marcus Washington knocked him to the ground.
Zorn was asked about Portis’ desire to stay here for offseason workouts in lieu of his previous routine of returning to South Florida for the summer. He said it was part of Portis’ contract that he worked out with the team.
“I’m sure he would have loved to have been in Miami in the warmth and stuff, but he made some sacrifices,” Zorn said. “Partly, it was extrinsic motivation that he made sacrifices. But he did it.”
In other injury news, offensive line coach Joe Bugel said left tackle Chris Samuels is likely to start participating in contact drills next week. He had surgery on his right elbow last month. Stephon Heyer has taken Samuels´ place in those situations.
The team excused London Fletcher from practice to tend to his wife, Charne. She gave birth to their second child Tuesday, a boy.