Jets LB Donahue figuring out 'how to carry on' after month in alcohol rehab

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Dylan Donahue is trying to rebuild his life and his football career, one day at a time. It isn't easy.

He is facing drunken driving charges in two states -- Montana and New Jersey -- and he's less than two months removed from a 31-day stint in an alcohol-rehab facility in Jacksonville, Florida. He's thankful to still have a job with the New York Jets, because, after the second arrest, he feared termination. He's grateful to head coach Todd Bowles, who played with his father, former linebacker Mitch Donahue, with the San Francisco 49ers in 1991.

"I've known about him previously and his character, and I just think he's a player's coach," Dylan Donahue told ESPN. "He understands what it's like for people who make mistakes and giving them second chances."

It's a second chance for a well-traveled, former Division II player who once appeared to have no chance at a career in the NFL. That changed last year, when he was drafted in the fifth round out of West Georgia. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but his life started to unravel almost immediately.

Ten days after the 2017 draft, Donahue was charged with DUI after driving into a parked, unoccupied pickup truck and flipping his SUV in his hometown of Billings, Montana. A source said the Jets weren't aware of the arrest until this March, when it was first reported by ESPN. Donahue's next court date is June 26.

Three weeks before the Billings arrest came to light -- Feb. 26, to be exact -- he allegedly made a wrong-way entrance into the Lincoln Tunnel and crashed head-on into a small passenger bus on the New Jersey side of the tunnel. He was arrested and charged with drunken driving, then voluntarily checked into rehab. Donahue suffered no significant injuries in either crash, but four of the 15 bus passengers were transported to a hospital with minor injuries.

"I don't necessarily feel lucky. I don't believe in luck," Donahue said. "I feel like God was watching out for me."

He said the Lincoln Tunnel incident was a "wake-up call," and he described his time in rehab as "very awakening and life-changing." Rehab was hard, he said. As an inpatient, it was 24/7 therapy for an entire month.

"Every day, I thought about where I was at with my relationship with God," he said. "It was an opportunity to get close with him and to figure out who I really am, getting closer with myself, as well.

"When I made it to the league, I was focusing everything on football, football, football and not focusing on myself and the Lord. I was able to step back, take a deep breath and figure out how to carry on."

Asked if he has remained sober, Donahue said, "Yes, sir." He declined to characterize the severity of his drinking problem -- and he refused to discuss his arrests -- but said he likes this version of himself.

"My mind feels a lot clearer," he said. "I'm able to remember things a lot better and just think a lot clearer."

Donahue, a backup linebacker and special-teams player, faces many challenges ahead. The Jets' offseason program ends June 14, and players will scatter for a six-week hiatus before training camp. It's known as the silly season, when players are on their own and coaches fear the middle-of-the-night call that brings bad news.

When Donahue returns in late July, he could be facing a league suspension. The NFL is reviewing his arrests, and he's subject to discipline under the substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies.

"Whatever they decide to do," he said, "I'm all right with."

For now, Donahue is thrilled to be back in a football environment, participating in OTA practices. He loves the game and the camaraderie in the locker room. His father told him stories about his days with the 49ers, when he, Bowles and former linebacker Bill Romanowski sat around the locker room and yukked it up.

For as long as he can remember, Donahue wanted to follow the path of his father, who declined to be interviewed for this story. Now his future rests, in large part, in the hands of one of his dad's former teammates.

"He’s got his head down; he’s working," said Bowles, the former safety. "He’s working on some personal things, obviously that he told you guys [about]. He’s just working hard every day, trying to get the system down, and we’ll see what comes of it when everything comes to a head."