Not many NFL players have had such an up-and-down struggle to succeed in the NFL as Bucs wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has had since being drafted by the Jaguars in the seventh round in 2009. Underwood's hard work and determination paid big dividends in Sunday's win at Detroit.
Two years in a row, Buccaneers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood got the dreaded visit from the Bucs’ “Turk” in late August, telling him he needed to go see head coach Greg Schiano, and, "Oh yeah kid, don’t forget to bring your playbook."
And two years in a row the Buccaneers have decided later it was the wrong decision to cut the player with the most recognizable hair in the NFL.
A mentally weak player would have likely decided that maybe this football roller coaster wasn’t for him, and went another route, no pun intended.
But Underwood chose to keep persevering, even after stints in Jacksonville and New England, where he was actually cut the night before the Super Bowl XLVI.
“When you’re cut, it’s part of this business,” Underwood said. “You can either lie down or continue to work hard and fight. The way I was raised, I just continued to work. I trust in God and I trust in the abilities that he’s blessed me with and to finally get an opportunity – I called my uncle right after that game, I said, ‘Man, I’ve waited five years to have a performance like that, I haven’t played like that since college,’ and for it to finally happen, it just helps your confidence, it gives confidence to the coaches and also the quarterback. He’s a young guy still finding his way, so you want to be a guy that he can count on.”
Schiano has know Underwood going back to his high school days when he recruited him to sign with Rutgers.
“I think Tiquan is an incredible story – an unselfish, humble guy who just [has] persistence,” Schiano said on Monday afternoon. “We let him go twice, he battles back. [He was released from] Jacksonville, New England. Some of the stuff that’s happened to this kid – not a kid anymore, I’m used to calling him a kid, we recruited him – this young man, [getting cut by New England] the night before the Super Bowl. It’s all part of the business. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. But this guy just keeps coming back. That I’m really proud of, because I’ve known him since he was probably 14 years old. [He’s] just an incredible person.”
Underwood’s performance (three catches for 103 yards and two TDs) against the Lions on Sunday had a huge impact in upset win. In the second quarter rookie quarterback Mike Glennon found Underwood for a seven-yard touchdown strike putting the Bucs in front.
“The first read was actually Vince[cent Jackson] on the pop play [who was doubled], which tends to happen a lot because he’s such a great player, and I was the next read,” Underwood said. “It was the first time I was lined up on Rashean Mathis, who I played with a lot in Jacksonville. He’s a strong, longer guy, so once he gets his hands off you, you’ve got to continue to fight and fortunately I did that.
“First off, great call by coach [offensive coordinator] Mike Sullivan. They gave us the courage that we were looking for. The offensive line gave Mike [Glennon] time, especially with that front four we were facing, and Mike put it right on the money.”
Underwood’s biggest catch of the day – and NFL career for that matter – came in the second half with the Buccaneers once again trailing on the road. Glennon found Underwood behind the Lions secondary and hit him in stride. Underwood made the catch without slowing down, threw a stiff behind him, and went 85 yards for the decisive touchdown.
Underwood said that play is an example of how Glennon has grown as a quarterback over the last two months.
“Whenever you run a route and you know the ball is going to be placed where it needs to be, or he always puts it away from the defender which helps us as well, that goes a long way,” Underwood said. “As a receiver, you’re very confident in running your route and knowing where the ball will be and Mike’s doing a great job of that. Honestly, he’s doing a great job of leading our offense; whenever we’re doing well or it’s not going too well, he just stays very consistent and just even-keeled.”
The up-and-down storybook journey of Underwood from seventh-round draft pick to practice squad player, to being cut twice to then eventually being re-signed, to starting receiver in the NFL, is one every young player should read, and read often.
“In this league we all know you don’t get a lot of opportunities and some guys on this team have been given opportunities due to injury or whatever the reason has been, and guys are really stepping up,” Underwood said. “That’s the best way to make a name for yourself in this league.
“I speak to [wide receiver] Vincent Jackson a lot and not a lot of people know that he started on special teams and [was] not getting a lot of reps, and he just continued to work hard and persevere, and guys on this team are doing that. When you have [running back] Mike James who stepped up, [running back] Bobby Rainey stepped up after him, it’s happening a lot on this team due to injury – which is part of this game – but guys are really embracing opportunity.”
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