TAMPA — Call Tony Covington an underdog.
No really, please do.
Underdogs, by definition, are the expected losers of a situation.
But Covington, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety, says he embraces a term from which others may recoil.
"People have underestimated me my entire life," said the University of Virginia graduate. "People said I would not play for a Division I school; I did. People said I would not play in the NFL; I did."
Covington, who now lives in Baltimore where he is the senior director of corporate affairs for the NAACP, returned to Tampa to Nov. 30 to unveil his newest book, aptly titled I Am Underdog: A Journey of Adversity and Blessings.
It’s part auto-biographical, part motivational. Covington, a fourth-round pick in the 1991 NFL, said a friend encouraged him to write it after sharing his recovery from some devastating events in his life.
Like when his mother passed away from breast cancer at age 47. Or the moment when he realized his professional football career was over and he had no clue of his next steps.
The latter was a most humbling experience, Covington said.
After four years with the Buccaneers, Covington was signed as a free agent to play for the Seattle Seahawks. But after just one year, he was cut for a younger player.
A workout for the San Francisco 49rs appeared to go well, but eventually Covington was passed over for future Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson.
After years of overcoming obstacles to achieve his dream of playing professional football, Covington suddenly needed a new playbook.
"I thought I prepared for the transition," he said. "It was difficult. Nobody had taught me to network."
One good thing going for Covington was his communications degree. The realization that his playing days were done, he set about getting a job. He found one selling water filtration equipment, on 100 percent commission.
"I got really good at it," he said.
Covington also coached football at local high schools, including Blake and Tampa Catholic. He became a mentor and father figure to dozens of young men who, like himself, were cast as underdogs.
Covington took the job seriously, exposing his players to life outside of the field and their neighborhoods. Not all could be helped but many were transformed.
"I took those guys under my wing," he said. "Some of those kids reach back at Father’s Day or on Facebook."
Covington later moved into a successful nonprofit fundraising with the American Heart Association, the Special Olympics, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I realized I could have an impact on people’s lives," he said.
Now, he’s hoping his book can do the same.
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]