Making the team

Making the team

From Lions Stadium to the front office of the New York Jets, Dan Zbojovsky and Greg Nejmeh have their eyes on success.

Watching from the team suite as the New York Jets take the field at MetLife Stadium this season will be two TCNJ alums who have had a role in putting every one of the home team’s players out there.

Only the most avid fans would know their names, but that’s fine with Dan Zbojovsky ’07 and Greg Nejmeh ’08. They relish their positions as behind-the-curtain specialists in the alchemy of building a cohesive football team through the annual draft, trades, and more.

“It’s a collaborative effort trying to get our team better,” Nejmeh said in a recent joint interview at the Jets training facility in Morris County.

While the pair now identify with the Jets, they met as TCNJ Lions. In fact, the two knew each other well enough that one helped the other make it to the NFL. Zbojovsky landed with the Jets first. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan growing up in Hamilton Township, he was fascinated by the game but also by the offseason jockeying for new talent at the pro level.

“I’ve been interested in scouting since I was 12 years old,” Zbojovsky says. “Tracking players throughout the year — the process of team building and trying to assess players — is something that I would do with my dad, reading all the magazines and watching the draft to try to predict what might happen.”

At TCNJ, Zbojovsky, an exercise science major, started out in the football team’s video department recording games from an end zone and, over time, deepened his involvement to become a student assistant coach with the Lions defense. When then-Jets General Manager Terry Bradway came to TCNJ to speak in the spring of Zbojovsky’s sophomore year, Zbojovsky leveraged an introduction into a five-week summer video internship and then a full-time job.

Meanwhile, Nejmeh, a lifelong Jets fan, had set passing records as quarterback at Midland Park High School, and after a short stint in that position at TCNJ, he became a QB coach under then-coach Eric Hamilton in his junior year.

For Nejmeh, the hands-on experience was one he might not have had at a larger school, and one that he says “spring-boarded me to want to work in sports moving forward.” At a postseason banquet, Nejmeh connected with Zbojovsky, who provided insight on “what you need to be prepared for” in advance of an interview for a Jets internship in 2009.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dan,” he says.

Now among the most senior members of the Jets organization, Nejmeh and Zbojovsky lead groups that scout college players, prepare coaches and executives for the high-stakes draft, wine and dine free agents, and provide insights about opponents to Jets Coach Robert Saleh and his assistants.

Zbojovsky, the team’s director of personnel operations after a decade of coordinating college scouting, focuses on giving scouts the tools they need to evaluate potential additions to the roster, whether coming out of college or already in the NFL. That includes managing an arsenal of data, such as performance metrics and game film.

It is, Zbojovsky acknowledges, his dream job. “To be able to work here with the people that we get to work with, with the support we get from the organization, and to do it close to our families, is really an amazing experience for me,” he says.

It’s a world in which “combines,” or standardized strength and agility tests for draft prospects, have become part of the year-round entertainment for diehard fans. But this is not fantasy football, in which players can be cut and pasted together, says Nejmeh, who oversees the pro scouting department.

“In scouting, you have to have a global view of the entire team,” he says. “You have to know all of the positions and how they all fit together. That was all foreign to me. I had to learn a lot once I got here.”

The pair share an easy rapport, mingling work and family life. Both are fathers. And, coincidentally, Nejmeh’s wife, Melissa, rode the bus to high school with Zbojovsky and Kelly Pugh, who would become Zbojovsky’s wife.

Who’s higher on the Jets org chart? “Dan’s above me,” says Nejmeh, with a sly smile.

“That’s not true,” says Zbojovsky.

The hierarchy is irrelevant. What matters is the shared desire to contribute to an NFL championship for the Jets, something not seen since the days of Joe Namath in 1969.

“Obviously, the focus is to win games and be successful on the field,” says Zbojovsky. Winning the Super Bowl “would be an incredible experience and achievement for all of us,” he says.

“Doing our job to the best of our ability is the one thing we control,” says Nejmeh. “If everybody does that, hopefully we’ll get to the pinnacle of what we’re all trying to reach.”

Picture: New York Jets

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