TALLAHASSEE — A year ago at this time, Florida State redshirt junior receiver/special-teams mainstay Louis Givens wasn't dialing up his energy so he could make a play.
Instead, he was dialing up folks to make them pay.
"I was working for a debt collection company," he said. "I never thought I'd have to call people and beg them to pay their bills."
After playing one season at Division II Mars Hills (N.C.), Givens decided to leave the school — and a scholarship — behind and return home to Jacksonville as a prelude to walking on at FSU. So he needed a job, any job, even one that meant enduring abrupt hangups and unsavory language for almost five months.
Talk about paying your dues.
He did what he had to then defied the odds by impressing the FSU coaches enough last spring and fall to win a spot on the team. Now he has put himself in position to earn a scholarship.
"He's getting close, ain't he?" coach Bobby Bowden said.
The diminutive Givens, who's listed at 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, has 11 tackles on special teams, including two touchdown-savers on kickoffs against Miami.
With two receivers suspended last week against Clemson, he saw an expanded role and chipped in a 3-yard reception and 27-yard run that set up a touchdown.
Rudy didn't put up stats like that at Notre Dame a generation ago, and his story of perseverance inspired a movie.
"My whole life I always wanted to play football," Givens said, beaming, "and I always wanted to be a part of Florida State."
'Middle of nowhere'
Givens, 21, said he had scholarship offers to play basketball at the Citadel and North Florida coming out of Jacksonville Wolfson, but his passion for the sport had waned.
Although he enjoyed football success in high school, leading his team to the state playoffs as a senior in 2004, the lone scholarship offer came from Mars Hill, the tiny school near Asheville. He took it and played 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2006 as a receiver and kick returner.
"It's out in the middle of nowhere. It's actually on the side of a mountain," Givens said of the school with an enrollment of about 1,200.
"It's a good environment, but it's just not where I wanted to get my degree from."
When he started talking about leaving and trying to make it at FSU, folks there told him it wasn't going to happen. He wasn't big enough. He wasn't good enough.
"I took it and used it as motivation," he said.
While he worked for the debt collection company, he took classes at Florida Community College to earn his associates degree so he could transfer to FSU.
He came to Tallahassee in January and went through a walk-on tryout a month later, making a point of asking his high school teammate and good friend, FSU receiver Rod Owens, not to talk him up to the coaches.
He would pay his own freight.
'Work harder than anybody'
The coaches liked his speed (he ran a 4.4 for 40 yards and later a 4.3) and invited him to go through spring practice, which is when they saw an attitude they coveted.
"I knew I was going to be an underdog," said Givens, a biology major who wants to get into pharmacy school.
"When I came here, I was going to give it all I had every day."
Life as a walk-on is not glamorous. There isn't the tuition break, for one thing. There isn't always the respect. At first, when he asked for a pair of gloves, he was shown a pile of discarded ones to dig through and try on.
"Those guys don't get nearly the benefits we do as scholarship players, but they probably work harder than anybody," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "We wouldn't be doing as well as we are without those guys."
His passion and pride has meant more adoration — from teammates, fans and the media — as well as more opportunity.
Give the one-time debt collector, well, credit.
For walk-ons, there also isn't much fanfare. For the North Carolina State game, Givens was inadvertently left off the two-deep chart, so his three tackles were credited at the time to another.
"I'm happy to be here," he said, "and it's been great."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.