The NFL history books are filled with rags-to-riches type of stories – unknown college football players who eventually work their way onto NFL rosters and end up being contributors, or Pro Bowlers, or even eventually have their busts grace the hallowed halls of Canton.
While Bucs rookie Javien Elliott is still light years away from being mentioned in the company of some of those successes, just to get here from where he was two years ago today, is still an impressive feat.
And if the story ended tomorrow, it would still make a pretty good book.
“This is the biggest opportunity I’ve come across so far,” Elliot said. “I did the same thing in college as a walk-on, but now I’m on a higher level so I have to make sure I go out and do my job.”
Two years ago Elliott walked around the Florida State campus in Tallahassee in virtual anonymity. And rightfully so. After finishing his high school career in Panama City, Elliot didn’t receive any college offers, and spent two years as strictly a student at a community college.
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However, Elliott’s dream to play for the Seminoles was still a goal. Elliott’s father Jay worked hard to get his son a look from the Seminoles, and the team eventually offered him an opportunity to walk-on. The first step in his dream was happening.
Elliott never saw the field for the Noles during his first season, and his second year started off the same way. But the former Rutherford High product kept working in practice and eventually the defensive staff took notice. Elliott got some snaps on special teams before eventually getting some time at cornerback midway through his senior season.
Elliott showed something that caught the eye of the Bucs scouting staff during his limited playing time at FSU, but also stood out during FSU’s Pro Day last spring.
Bucs GM Jason Licht’s motto for his staff is to “Turn Over Every Stone” but for director of player personnel John Spytek, and scouts Byron Keifer and Brian Hudspeth it was first finding the rock, digging it up then rolling it several feet to even find Elliott.
Finishing a college career with just 37 tackles, one sack, one interception and two forced fumbles will hardly get you noticed by NFL scouts, however Elliott had impressed the Bucs brass.
As expected, Elliott went undrafted, but that didn’t mean the dream was over. After the draft and the initial wave of undrafted free agent signing, the Bucs remembered the former walk-on-limited game film-but feisty cornerback from Tallahassee, and he was signed by Tampa Bay. Much like when he joined the Seminoles, all that he was promised was an opportunity.
Elliott understood the odds he was facing but felt his had some help in his journey.
“I’m not really shocked because of the work I put in,” Elliott said. “But I believe in God, and feel He is the reason I am here to this day. I just have kept my faith. So it is no shock to me and my family. I just knew it would take a lot of hard work like it did in college.”
Elliott had a quiet camp, at least from the eyes of most fans and media members who attended training camp practices. But despite being somewhat of an unknown to most except a few die hard Seminole and Bucs fans, Elliott was making it difficult on the coaching staff to not include him on the roster. When cut downs came following the conclusion of preseason games, Elliott got the dreaded visit from the “Turk.” But his disappointment was short-lived, as the team signed him to the practice squad a day later.
During the first part of the season Elliott just tried to soak as much information in, and work on getting better each day. Going against the team’s best players certainly helped.
“I’ve grown a lot, and going against Mike Evans in practice every day has helped me a lot,” Elliott said. “I’ve learned from the other corners and I’ve learned from the coaches and it’s helped me get to where I am today.”
Just before Thanksgiving, Elliott received the news he had been waiting on when the team promoted him to their active roster. Elliott was active for his first game, against the Seahawks, then actually got some playing time in the Bucs upset win over the Chargers.
Again, perfecting his craft on a daily basis at practice helped him out and gave the coaching staff confidence when it was his time to see the field.
“I have gotten some picks from Jameis in practice, but those don’t count,” Elliott said. “We came from the same school, but I don’t feel guilty doing it. We’re on the same team now and I’m making him better and he’s making me better.”
Head coach Dirk Koetter talked about Elliott making the staff take notice of him over the last couple months.
“We’ve been working Javien and the main reason we have confidence in Javien Elliot, is he picks off our offense about three times every day in practice,” Koetter said. “He’s a kid that practices hard – we encourage those guys not to hit our guys, not to take shots on our guys, but if you can get the ball in practice, get it and nobody picks off Jameis Winston more than Javien Elliot. And he makes plays, so we knew when he had a chance to come up, that we weren’t going to be afraid to put him in the game.”
Elliott said he relies on the veterans on the team to help him improve.
“I can learn a lot from those guys,” Elliott said. “They’ve been around a long time and we’re all about the same size – we’re all under 6-foot. We have similar size, but we have different playing styles and I can learn from them.
“Really all of them, I have questions for every one of them. I am thankful to be able to come up under them because they are veterans and I can learn so much. But we are all similar sizes, smaller corners so I can learn from all of them.
Where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess. But the one thing that people should learn is that Elliott has been defying the odds his whole life, and no one will outwork him.
“I have room to work on everything,” Elliott said. “I am never satisfied. I just like to go out there and play hard. Play with a passion. And that is what makes everything rise up.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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