Doug Middleton realizes that football is a short-term game. He knows his time with the New York Jets and the NFL won't last until normal retirement age.
Middleton, an alumnus of Parkland and a two-time graduate of Appalachian State, finished his third professional season a couple of months ago. An undrafted free agent safety in 2016, he missed the entire 2017 season due to a torn pectoral muscle. After becoming a starter for the Jets last year, Middleton’s season ended after tearing another one.
Always a big-picture thinker, Middleton’s pro career has only reaffirmed the need to evaluate his goals and plans.
“(You have to) take advantage of every opportunity, whether it’s on the field — whether it’s getting called up to start one week or whether it’s stepping up on special teams, whatever it is,” Middleton said. “And off the field, taking advantage of your opportunities to meet people that can help you when this game is done and taking advantage of using this platform that you have as a professional athlete to speak to people that you might not normally speak to.
“That’s just been something that I’ve learned by taking a step into this career path, just knowing that you’ve got to be able to take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you and just be ready when that opportunity comes.”
It’s why Middleton, as well as fellow former Mountaineers safety A.J. Howard, took advantage of externship opportunities with the NFL Players Association during the last month. Middleton and Howard were two of the NFLPA's 123 applications for the program. Only 66 players were selected.
The NFLPA externship is a three-week program that places NFL players in different work environments. According to the NFLPA, 27 different organizations — ranging from business and finance to tech startups and media companies — participated with this current batch of former and current players.
This was the program’s sixth year of existence. Former App State players Tony Washington and Demetrius McCray also went through the program in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Middleton and Howard found themselves on opposite ends of the country. The former worked with Forbes Tate Partner, a government relations and public affairs firm, in D.C. as a lobbyist. The latter went to California for training with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Both pursued experiences that would further their previous networking tracks. Howard graduated from App State after the 2017 season with a pre-law degree. Between his junior and senior year, he did an internship with Boone P.D.
Howard, a rookie this season, finished the season on the practice squad of the New England Patriots, who in February won the Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history. He first latched on with the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted, making the 53-man roster before getting waived/injured a day later. Howard spent a chunk of the season with the New York Giants practice squad before latching on with New England.
Howard said that every day with the LAPD was so different. One day, he did a ride along in a helicopter, the next he watched officers train. Howard said he's always thought about going to law school someday, and he hopes to save enough money from playing football to potentially foster that career. Being hit with the harsh reality of roster cuts only reinforced his plans.
“Honestly, just seeing how the business of football has worked since I basically entered the league in May with the Cardinals,” Howard said of doing the externship. “Basically just seeing the business aspect and how you can be here and gone tomorrow, you know?
“So my whole thing was trying to build and network a little bit like I did for future job’s sake, or if I want to have a career with them, I know I have connections there that can make that happen.”
Middleton had been interested in lobbying for a while. During his time at App State, he was part of a contingent that went to Raleigh to talk with lawmakers about funding for a new health sciences building. Part of his efforts led to the 2018 debut of Levine Hall, Appalachian’s newest facility.
He mentioned his past experiences to the NFLPA, and he linked up with Forbes Tate. During his work, he met governors from around the nation and witnessed lobbyist interact with lawmakers.
Middleton said by phone last week he is far from deciding his next line of work. Most likely, he said, he will bounce around many different jobs in and around local, state and federal government.
But now he has another experience to lean on when his time in football is over.
“I’m not really sure, but whatever it is, in government relations or local government, that’s something that I have a strong interest in and something that I would definitely do throughout my career,” Middleton said. “So long term, it’s a mix of both. I’m really not just focused on one different thing, I’m trying to really just keep all options open right now.”