From tsutigers :
Playing in the National Football League is a dream for most collegiate players. Every year over 50,000 athletes suit up for their respective universities through all levels, hoping for a chance to play at the highest level – a feat only 26,000 former collegians have accomplished over the span of 54 years.
Former Tennessee State players Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) and Anthony Levine Sr. have earned the right to play in the NFL. The former TSU teammates have also defied the average career expectancy of an NFL player.
According to the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years. The NFL career for a Pro-Bowl nominated player is 12 years. Players leave the NFL for a variety of reasons, including injury, retirement and being released by their team.
The two have taken different routes. Rodgers-Cromartie, now in his 13th year, was drafted in the first round as the 16th pick overall of the 2008 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, while Levine, entering his 10th campaign, was an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2010.
“Dominique was a huge part of TSU,” Levine said. “I remember one time we showed up for 5:00 a.m. workouts and I got there real early. Dominique was on the side of the building running hills by himself. I couldn’t believe he was out there running hills before our 5 a.m. workouts. Now I see why he was a first round draft pick.”
Rodgers-Cromartie showed equal admiration of Levine.
“I knew he always had it in him,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “When he came in, he would always follow the upperclassmen around and try and do the things that we did. I saw that work ethic in him and I knew all he needed was a chance. I feel with him going undrafted, it made him hungrier. I knew if he didn’t suffer any injuries, he would stay in the league for a long time because he was that guy who was going to put the work in.”
Tennessee State has had a proud tradition with a little over 130 players reaching the next level with 10 reaching double digits in years played. The list is led by Ed “Too Tall” Jones who played 16 years and Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Dent who lasted 15 seasons. Anthony Pleasant suited up for 14 years, one more than Michael Hegmen and Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who has spent 12 seasons in the pros with six different teams, spent last year with the Washington Redskins and is in the rehab protocol. He hopes to continue his career, but has to wait for the facilities and camps to resume.
“I’ve had a great time in the NFL,” Rodgers-Cromartie commented. “It has taught me a lot of things, on and off the field. It has given me certain platforms to do well in life and to use it to help others. It has helped me overall as a young man.”
Levine is entering his 10th season, eighth with the Baltimore Ravens, and will match the career length of Joe “Turkey” Jones and Vernon Holland. The trio sit one year behind Dwight Wheeler who player from 1978-88 and Brent Alexander who played for 12 years.
“I’m blessed to even have the opportunity to play,” Levine stated. “It really is the testament to the hard work that I put in during the offseason. Also, having the mindset that every year I have to make the team and it is not guaranteed. It is not about what you did last year because you are always being evaluated. That is always on my mind and makes me want to work harder than I did last year, proving that I can still perform at a high level.
”I had one coach tell me to make a play a day. If you make one play every practice, somebody will bring your name up in those meetings. As long as your name keeps coming up, and it is not in a bad way, then it is a good thing and people will start noticing you.”
DRC echoed Levine’s sentiments about hard work.
“I always try to do the little things and extra things that are necessary,” the Bradenton, Fla. native said. “I took care of my body. I really haven’t had many injuries over my whole career. I was always taking advantage of the offseason programs. I never missed camp. I was always there for the OTA’s even when they were not mandatory, always trying to do the little things and always showed up.”
The idea of hard work was provided for the two defensive backs in many forms, including the fact of coming from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), as well as a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
“There is already a stigma about you coming from Tennessee State,” said Levine. “They look at you different. They think you can play ball, but they always think the competition isn’t good. But at the end of the day, I don’t care where I played at; I felt I could play with anybody.
“I wanted to let everybody know that we breed athletes at Tennessee State. I just wanted to keep the tradition going because we have had legends come through Tennessee State. You walk into the locker room with guys from LSU, Alabama and Florida State, and they believe they were already above you because they went to these schools. So, for me personally, this was even more motivation.”
“It helped me develop a chip on my shoulder,” Rodgers-Cromartie added. “Our level is always overlooked because they say we don’t play the top level week-in and week-out. So, you can take it two ways. It can either make you mad and you can do something about it, or it can make you made and you fall off to the waste side. It made me want to go that extra mile and prove everybody it doesn’t matter where you came from. Where you end up, is where you end up, but everybody has their different paths.”
Rodgers-Cromartie has played in 162 games, starting 121, and has had stints with the Cardinals, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, the Oakland Raiders and the Redskins. He has amassed 454 tackles, 395 solo, 16 tackles for loss with 2.5 sacks over his career.
The two-time Pro Bowler has 30 interceptions, six touchdowns, defended 147 passes, forced seven fumbles and recovered two.
“Being on time,” Rodgers-Cromartie explained as one of the main things he has learned in the NFL. “Back in college you could get away with showing up right on time. But in the NFL, they do not play around. If you come on time, you’re late. I learned that if a meeting started at one o’clock, you can’t show up at 12:59. I had to learn that the hard way. But for the most part, TSU taught me a lot as far as the work ethic and understanding the game.”
Levine spent two seasons with the Packers before becoming a Raven. The Winston-Salem, N.C. product has played in 114 games, starting three, collecting 130 tackles, 104 solo, five for loss and 4.0 sacks. Levine has two interceptions and 15 passes defended over his career. The former Tiger has made a living on special teams and has even had three rushes for 65 yards.
Levine learned early on that taking care of your body was important to maintaining a lengthy career.
“I didn’t know too much about the things you put into your body,” Levine emphasized. “My eating habits have changed a lot, I mean drastically. I am almost down to a vegan, but I am NOT a vegan, but I am very near. I eat chicken, fish, turkey, vegetables and a lot of fruit. I buy these five gallon jugs of water and I go through about three of those a week. But I say that’s been the most important part; my nutrition, along with my training and my sleep habits.
“I take care of my body. I do pilates on Monday’s and Friday’s, yoga on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s, as well as get messages twice a week. I didn’t think about those things in college. I really couldn’t afford them either. In college, I didn’t think about stretching. I just went out and played. I did the basic stretching, but if I had all of that in college, I would have been a way better athlete.”
The two have also been a part of the biggest stage. Rodgers-Cromartie was a Second Team All-Pro player in 2016 and has played in two Super Bowls. The first came with Arizona during his rookie season and again with the Broncos in Super Bowl XLIX. Levine was a member of the Packers in Super Bowl XLV and with the Ravens in XLVII.
“Playing together was a blessing and we talk about that all the time,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “We were just two guys coming from a small school and being able to stick around this long. I mean, we both were in two Super Bowls, even though he was able to be a part of two winners. Every time we play each other or see each other on film, we always call each other instantly. And every time we play each other we have to swap jerseys, but I keep getting the same jersey, even the same color, from him. I’ve been on multiple teams so he keeps getting different jerseys. I tell him that I can’t keep getting the same jerseys.”
“Every time we play, I am always in my away jersey,” Levine stated. “He’s always at home. I’m looking at my wall right now and I’ve got his Broncos jersey up and his Giants jersey.”
Anthony Levine played at TSU from 2006 to 2009, earning All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a senior.
“The best time of my life was at Tennessee State,” said Levine. “I didn’t think I would go to an HBCU coming out of high school. I had big schools coming after me, but I ended up at TSU and it was the best thing that happened in my life. I gained life-long friends and coach was like a father figure in my life. I remember I was crying on the sidelines at the end of my final game. Coach Reed came up to me and told me that I was going to continue playing ball and it wasn’t over for me. When he told me that, I believed him. I felt like that is the type of stuff you don’t really get anywhere else. It really is like a family. I appreciate all those guys. If I didn’t go to TSU, I don’t think I would be doing what I am doing now.”
Rodgers-Cromartie played for the Big Blue from 2004-07 and was a three-time All-OVC selection and a 2007 FCS All-American.
“Being at Tennessee State was some of the best years in my life,” mentioned Rodgers-Cromartie. “I came in with a group of freshmen that to this day we are still click-tight. I came in with a group of guys that had the same mindset on and off the field. We hung together and we are still the best of friends. Every time I come to Nashville we get to visit. From the first day we created a bond. After spending time in the league, I realized that you need that type of bond to win.”
TSU alum with NFL careers lasting nine years or longer:
Ed “Too Tall” Jones (16) 1974-89 (Did not play in 1979)
Richard Dent (15) 1983-97
Anthony Pleasant (14) 1990-2003
Michael Hegmen (13) 1976-88
Claude Humphrey (13) 1968-81 (Did not play in 1975)
Brent Alexander (12) 1994-2005
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (12) 2008-Present
Dwight Wheeler (11) 1978-88
Joe “Turkey” Jones (10) 1970-80 (Did not play in 72)
Vernon Holland (10) 1971-80
Anthony Levine Sr. (10) 2010-Present
Elbert Drungo (9) 1969-78 (Did not play in 1972)
Robert Woods (9) 1973-81