ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He’s seen the clips. Friends and family sent them all the time. He was aware of their existence -- how could Jason Cabinda not be, with a camera following him intermittently during training camp last year.
But even though he had a star turn in "Hard Knocks" a season ago, the Oakland Raiders-turned-Detroit Lions linebacker-turned-fullback still has never watched the show.
“I just watched the watched the videos that friends would send me that concerned me or literally had to do with me,” Cabinda said. “I never just watched the show. Someone sent me what they put on TV of me getting cut. I’ve seen that.
“But I didn’t feel the need to watch it. That is my life. That is just it being televised. I’m literally living it. There’s nothing that’s going to happen in the show, I lived that. I know everything that happens.”
It had nothing to do with actually being on TV, either. Cabinda has never been a reality TV person. He had heard about "Hard Knocks" in the past from teammates at Penn State. Cabinda views most reality television as “kind of corny” and that the majority of it looks fake.
Shows like "The Bachelor," and "Survivor," -- two cornerstones of the reality TV world -- just don’t appeal to him.
“It’s not realistic to me,” Cabinda said. “It’s too obvious that it’s not realistic, so it’s not something that I can watch.”
His own appearance in the reality TV world didn’t change his feelings. Cabinda had no qualms about being on the show – calling the producers and staffers who worked with him “great” and “good people.” He felt the show tries to put everyone – and training camp itself – in a positive light even though the reality of camp is for many players it is “the most stressful four or five weeks, whatever it is, in some guys’ lives.”
There were some good moments -- he was especially happy how much attention his mom, Natalie, received on the show -- and some surreal moments, like watching a clip on his phone of his best friend and his mom watching him play in a preseason game on television.
If you think about it too hard, it can bend your mind.
“You know those life moments you have that make you just step away from the moment and make you appreciate something,” Cabinda said. “That’s probably what that did for me. It was just dope, you know.”
Natalie laughs at the memory now, both in how comfortable the filming went and also that the Cameroon immigrant and college professor failed to promote her book: “Regroup. Refocus. Rebuild: Helping Families Navigate from Break-Ups to Breakthroughs!” It’s a mistake she jokes she wouldn’t make again.
Overall, she said everything felt natural -- even when the crew came to her New Jersey home and followed her around for a day, including inside the stadium during a preseason game.
“It was actually fun,” Natalie said. “Because they had me wear a wire the whole time and most of the time I didn’t even remember that I had the wire on. So totally forgot. I was just a football mom in a stadium watching my son play and just reacting the way I would every single game anyway.
“So it was nothing new or strange but for the fact that I had a mic on me, which most of the time I didn’t remember.”
The attention he received made Cabinda feel he was in good shape going into cuts last season. That he would potentially be on the Raiders after playing 10 games as a rookie. "Hard Knocks" choosing to chronicle his journey bolstered that.
It wasn’t to be then, which is why he looks back at where he is a year later -- on a different team in a different city playing a different position on a different side of the ball -- and understands exactly how much can change.
“Would have never guessed,” Cabinda said. “Not in a million years.”
Cabinda landed fairly quickly after Oakland released him last season, signing first with Detroit’s practice squad and then being promoted and appearing in four games. Entering this training camp, Cabinda looked to be in a tough spot on the linebacker depth chart.
Then Nick Bawden struggled with injury and the Lions moved Cabinda to fullback. He thrived. Made the team and has a more defined role than he ever has in the NFL before.
A year later, in a different and potentially better place, Cabinda can reflect back to what he learned. Being featured and being cut gave him perspective of how many people might have been paying attention to him. How many people he plays for that he wants to prove right by doing well.
It taught him how persistent he could be. Gave him perspective on what he needed to do to make it in the NFL. Reminded him of the natural ups and downs of the game, just like in life. Which is why, a year later, he can offer this advice about being on "Hard Knocks."
“Act like they are not there, do what you need to do. I just think that it’s, you got to always stay with the ebb and flow, the ups and the downs of camp, a good day and bad day, you have to try and find ways to stack good days,” Cabinda said. “Adding positive or negative inputs from any other outside sources in that time of crazy stress is not necessary, you know. I did my best to not pay attention to it at all.
“If you’re getting featured, don’t think about it. It doesn’t mean anything, treat it like it doesn’t mean anything. So don’t internalize anything you see on the show if you happen to be watching it.”
The show won’t make decisions for teams. It doesn’t influence outcomes. And as Cabinda learned, even if you get cut it won’t control where you’re going to end up.