Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Getting Back Up

Free safety Kalvin Pearson never gave up on his dream of making it to the NFL…And now that he’s made it, he plans on sticking around

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S Kalvin Pearson has persevered through a number of career ups and downs

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leading tackler on special teams last season was undrafted free agent Kalvin Pearson.

Kick and punt coverage can be a frenzied chaos, but the young free safety has never taken umbrage to getting knocked around, or even down. He simply dusts himself off and prepares to do it all over again. That's who Kalvin Pearson is, and that mindset has helped him go from overlooked to the place where he found himself this week at Bucs training camp – practicing with the first-team defense.

Yes, starting free safety Will Allen is out with a thumb injury, but if not for the Pearson's sheer determination to make it to the NFL, he may never have seized upon the opportunity to step in for Allen this week and show Bucs coaches what he's got – a pretty good game, based on early indications.

"It's a big break, man," Pearson said, on replacing Allen on the first-team defense. "I don't wish the worst on any player, but when I get the chance, I've got to step in and make the plays necessary [for us] to become a championship team.

"I've had my ups and downs – I've been released, brought back, released, brought back again – but sometimes you just have to work hard at what you do and you just have to believe that sometimes a chance can happen. But when you get in that situation, you have to make your plays to stay."

Though he's nimble at 5-10, 190 pounds and a "sparkplug" in the secondary – as labeled by Defensive Backs Coach Greg Burns – Pearson's greatest attribute is his perseverance. It's a quality he said was instilled in him early in college by Bucs Personnel Executive and Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams, then a coach at Morehouse College where Pearson attended.

"Doug was a major influence in my life," Pearson said. "Coming out of high school, I was undersized, playing as a linebacker, and Doug took a chance on recruiting me to Morehouse as a defensive back. From then on we kind of stuck together. He's been teaching me about the ups and downs of the game.

"I moved from Morehouse [to Grambling State] with Doug. Doug was a really good coach. Being with him was a big step in my life. He was telling me in college, 'You're undersized Pearson. A lot of teams won't want to take a chance on you, but just keep working hard like you're doing and something will happen.'"

Something did happen. Pearson entered the NFL in 2002 as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns – a notable accomplishment in and of itself. However, he spent most of that season on the practice squad before being released. He was out of football the following year until he was signed in January 2003 by the Buccaneers. Eight months later he was again released. The Buccaneers came calling again a few months later, and Pearson was signed to the practice squad before being released a week later. The pattern repeated until he signed a contract with the Bucs in 2005 and was subsequently allocated to NFL Europe.

"It's real tough as a free agent," Pearson said. "You get down because you've been released. Sometimes you think about giving it up, but if it's a dream you want, sometimes you've got to pursue it."

Finally, in 2005 Pearson broke through. He played in 14 games with the Buccaneers, even starting against division foe Atlanta, a game in which he contributed a career-high 12 tackles. He's back with the team again this year and again hoping to catch the coaches' eyes. So far, mission accomplished.

"I think Kalvin is doing a really good job, and it's good for him to get the opportunity to see what it feels like to rotate with the ones," Burns said. "In my mind, I clearly think that he is capable and able to handle it. He's a starter for right now, and he's doing a good job."

Even more important, Head Coach Jon Gruden agrees.

"He's doing a good job, and we need him to right now," Gruden said. "He needs this time, and he's handled it quite well."

Whether he's a starter or not, Pearson is focused and preparing each day as if he's the Bucs' man at free safety – not a slight to the incumbent Allen but a philosophy that, Burns explains, run throughout the entire Buccaneers D.

"That's just how they have to prepare," Burns said. "In regard to their preparation, they should think that. As [Monte] Kiffin clearly says, 'It doesn't matter what time of the game it is, when you're in, you're a starter.' You always have to act that way, so even when we're rotating and 2s are up, none of that matters. It's 'I'm a starter right now because I'm on the field.'"

It's a mantra Pearson has taken to heart, and it shows. By his own admission, he said he approaches each day of camp not as a battle with another teammate but as a competition with himself – one in which he invests all the time and energy he can muster in an effort to prepare himself both physically and mentally for the rigors of the free safety position. And lest it appears he's forgotten about his special teams duties – not a chance, he says.

"Special teams is what got me here, special teams is going to keep me here," Pearson emphatically stated Saturday after practice.

Wherever Pearson's future role may be – special teams, in the secondary or both – it's safe to assume he'll be knocking down more than getting knocked down – a welcome role reversal for a man who knows better than most how to get up and dust himself off.

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