TAMPA — Javien Elliott is an undrafted cornerback trying to make a team deep in cornerbacks. That makes him a long shot for the Bucs' 53-man roster this season, which is nothing new to the former Florida State Seminole.
Long shot is all he really knows.
"He knows what it's like to be an underdog," Javien's father, Jay, said. "He's been through that trial, that right of passage. He's cut from a different cloth."
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith smiled when asked after a recent practice for an assessment of Elliott's work during the first part of training camp.
"He's been a big surprise," Smith said.
Smith went on to say that Elliott, 5 feet 10, 186 pounds, is a smart player and a fast learner who can play both inside and outside. Smith expects Elliott to receive his bulk of playing time during the team's first two preseason games.
"It will be fun to evaluate him," Smith said.
That's all Elliott wants.
"It's an opportunity," he said. "That's how I look at it. It doesn't really matter how you get here. It's what you do when you get here. That's my motto."
Elliott's journey from his senior year at Panama City Rutherford High, where he did not receive a single scholarship offer, to working with the Bucs' second team during a recent practice is unusual.
He signed with Tampa Bay in May after being cut by Pittsburgh after rookie camp. He had impressed Bucs general manager Jason Licht at FSU's pro day by running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds.
That was actually the easiest, if not fastest, part of the trip.
"It was a long path," Jay Elliott said.
Elliott played one season at FSU, which came after a redshirt season, which came after he walked on to the program in the spring of 2014.
He reached FSU after spending two years at Tallahassee Community College, where he improved his grades. He paid his tuition by working at Lids, an athletic apparel store, in a Tallahassee mall. He trained on his own.
How he remained focused on a dream was a study in dedication, especially when Elliott watched from across town as a parade of five-star recruits received scholarship offers at FSU.
Elliott said he never thought of giving up. His dad said it's not in his son's "spirit" to quit on a dream.
Jay was surprised at the lack of interest in his son after Javien's senior season at Rutherford, where he was an all-county defensive back and receiver. Jay was determined that one college coach would see what Javien could do on a football field. So he called FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and left a message.
Jay was pleasantly surprised when D.J. Eliot, the Seminoles' defensive backs coach at the time, returned the call. Jay sent a DVD of Javien's highlights. Eliot extended an invite as a preferred walk-on but did not offer any promises that Elliott would even advance past tryouts.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
One problem: Elliott didn't have the grades to qualify, so he was off to TCC.
FSU honored Eliot's offer once the cornerback graduated from TCC. Javien arrived on campus for the 2014 spring semester and began impressing coaches with his ability to defend the scholarship receivers who were trying to catch passes thrown by Jameis Winston.
"You got all these things against you (as a walk-on). You're against all odds," Elliott said. "But you think, 'Hey, I'm on the field with these guys, too, so I got to make plays.' "
Elliott also spent time away from practice with Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, Florida State cornerbacks drafted by the Bills and Saints, respectively.
"Just by him being around those guys, he got that cornerback mentality," Winston said. "Those are two top cornerbacks, so he got time to learn from them."
Elliott received a scholarship before last season. Taking advantage of injuries in the Seminoles' secondary, Elliott played in 12 games, starting six, made 37 tackles, recorded a sack, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.
"It's a great story," Smith said.
The story continues at One Buc Place, where Elliott finds himself in a familiar position: a long shot competing against the odds and thankful for the chance.
"When you're presented with such a big opportunity, there are always going to be obstacles and things that happen that make you think it might not be able to happen," Elliott said. "But that's what makes you want to keep driving, keep pushing to that goal.
"I realize if I had given up, all this wouldn't happen."