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LI’s Jon Feliciano: Nothing beats home

On some level, Jon Feliciano understood where he was coming from. He had agreed to terms with the Giants after being cut by the Bills, joining a host of Buffalo imports who had flocked to New Jersey, including general manager Joe Schoen, head coach Brian Daboll and coach of offensive line Bobby Johnson. And he was excited to come to a team where he could play in the center of the offensive line, a position that always suited him best.

But it wasn’t until his flight touched down at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday and a car picked up Feliciano and his father to drive them through New York to the Giants facility in East Rutherford that he really understood.

High-rise buildings. The fast pace. The noise, the energy, the atmosphere.

“I was surprised at how moved I was,” Feliciano, 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, told Newsday of the experience. “Things were going so fast last week and I was anxious about being cut and trying to find somewhere to go, and things didn’t really click until I got in that car.

“Everything hit me and I was like, ‘Damn, I’m home.’ ”

Feliciano, 30, spent the first years of his life on Long Island at Hewlett. His parents divorced when he was just 3 years old and he moved to South Florida to live with his mother, Alicia, but his father, Rafael, remained here with many other members of his two greats. extended families.

Feliciano went to school in Florida, but whenever there were spring, summer, or vacation breaks, he would come back to New York.

“My dad was living in Inwood at the time, so I was either staying there or going to see my grandparents at Hewlett,” he said. “I spent a lot of time there.”

He vividly remembers walking through a neighbor’s house with his younger brother, Christopher, to Lawrence’s No. 2 Elementary School.

“We would end up there playing basketball and handball for hours,” he said.

Life wasn’t always so carefree and simple for Feliciano. He was born with a foot deformity that required braces for his first two years of life, and doctors were pretty sure he would never be able to run or play sports. His mother battled two bouts of cancer while he was still in her care. For a time in high school, he was homeless, relying on different friends with an open couch to take him in each night.

His father always asked him to come back to Long Island, Feliciano said, but he was “obsessed” with the idea of ​​playing college football for the University of Miami. He wasn’t a top rookie and had to practically ambush a Miami coach to hand-deliver the game film in order to even land on their radar, but in his heart Feliciano said that he knew he would have a much better chance of playing. for the Hurricanes if he was near Davie, Florida, and not all the way to New York.

He played in Miami — and even earned a degree in human resources management — which made him look like a Floridian through and through.

New York, however, was always a big part of him. Sometimes it even bubbles to the surface.

That’s what he did when he played for Miami offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, a Staten Island native who eventually recruited him to the Hurricanes. And he did when he was drafted by the Raiders and his first position coach in the NFL was Mike Tice of Central Islip.

“I’m still with New Yorkers,” he said. “It’s good. We understand each other.”

He certainly felt like a New Yorker going into the 2019 season. It was his first year with the Bills, so technically he was in the state, but the first two games of that season were on the road against the Giants. and the Jets.

“It was a dream come true,” he said of those back-to-back games (and wins). “What a way to start the season. It was possibly the easiest camp I’ve ever been through just because I was so excited to watch those two games. It was my first time playing there… I definitely feel when I play in MetLife.”

He will have it much more often now.

Just like he did last week on the LaGuardia ride.

That car ride, he told Newsday, brought it all back to him — a brief trip from Queens to Jersey that seemed to parallel the much longer one of his early childhood at that time, from braces to feet , basketball courts in Inwood and family struggles from his teenage years to the NFL for seven seasons and now, finally, with his real home team.

He thought of his family who still lives on Long Island, his aunts, uncles and cousins ​​who have always been mildly interested in football and his career, but are now very happy to see him play for the Giants. He thought of his uncle Danny in Arizona, the longtime Giants fan who would show up to his University of Miami games wearing the blue of his favorite NFL team.

“He’s thrilled,” Feliciano said. “Everyone else in my family is like, ‘We’re all Giants fans now!’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah. Welcome. I’ve been here for years.’ ”

And he thought of the man sitting next to him in the back seat of the car. The father who had always hoped his son would return to New York finally got his wish (even though he now lives in Florida himself).

“When I was growing up, I would wake up and my dad was already at work,” Feliciano said. “He was an MTA bus driver around town. He was the guy who drove people around town. And now he’s being driven across town by the New York Giants.

“That,” he said, “was significant.”

The perspective had changed, but Feliciano was relieved to know that everything still felt like home.