Terence Garvin tried to curb his enthusiasm, but he had a feeling his name would be called.
After all, in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons had been constantly calling his phone. The Loyola High graduate had worked out for the Ravens in Owings Mills. And on the final day of April's draft, the Detroit Lions told him to have his phone ready.
All seven rounds passed without the former West Virginia standout's name being announced, so he accepted an invitation to try out for the Pittsburgh Steelers at their rookie minicamp.
Five months later, he was on the field when the Steelers beat the Ravens, 19-16, on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
"I thought I was going to get drafted," Garvin said last week while lounging at his locker in the Steelers practice facility. "It all works out, though. God had a plan for what he wants."
When he first signed with the Steelers, Garvin faced long odds to crack their 53-man roster. But after impressing the coaching staff with his athleticism, tenacity and curiosity, Garvin has become a core player for them on special teams, playing in each of their six games this season. He hopes his role will continue to expand, but he is willing to do anything the Steelers ask in order to stick around.
"It's a good feeling because this is what I always wanted to do," Garvin said. "Of course, you want to keep working and keep climbing the ranks, but it's a good feeling knowing that I can go out there [on special teams] and make a play and make something happen in the game."
Garvin has made an impact on both the punt and kickoff coverage teams, and ranks near the team lead with four special teams tackles. He is also on both return teams for the Steelers and had a hand in Emmanuel Sanders' key kickoff return late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
Garvin played safety at West Virginia before the Mountaineers moved him to outside linebacker for his senior year. But his play on special teams is what caught the eye of a Steelers scout who had been keeping tabs on his teammates. The scout started making tapes of Garvin, too, and when he went undrafted, the Steelers targeted him as a rookie free agent.
"Our scouting staff did a great job of finding him at West Virginia and thought that he could be a prospect on special teams," Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith said. "His athleticism and his passion are probably his two biggest qualities that made us interested in him."
Smith gushed about Garvin, calling him "a student of the game" and saying that he is making the most out of the opportunity the Steelers are giving him. Garvin is attentive in meetings, asks "a lot of good questions" and spends extra time studying the nuances of special teams.
"I'm happy to be around him," Smith said after a Steelers practice last week. "I think he's going to be a good player. He's developing well. He has a lot to learn, like any rookie does, but every day is a new adventure for him, and that's a good thing because he has a passion for it."
In addition to special teams, the Steelers are using Garvin in practice at both inside and outside linebacker. At 6 feet 3 and 221 pounds, the former safety has good length as well as experience in coverage from playing safety in college. But the Steelers are still trying to figure out how best to use his skills on that side of the ball. He has yet to play a snap on defense this season.
"Even though I'm not out there right now, I watch everything they do," the 22-year-old said. "I watch the little stuff so I can pick it up. My ultimate goal is to play defense."
He has quickly endeared himself to veteran teammates with his attitude off the field and aggressiveness on it.
"You can definitely use him on the defense," Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "His special teams work has just been unbelievable, him running down there and making plays. This guy don't mind hitting anybody, so you'll take that on your team any day."
Still, as Garvin establishes himself in Pittsburgh, the Baltimore boy has been teased by his friends back home. Last week, his phone was bombarded with tweets and text messages telling him he was playing his "home team." Asked by a reporter whether he grew up a Ravens fan, he responded with a hushed tone in case one of his teammates was eavesdropping.
"A little bit. A little bit," he said. "Everybody at home, that's all they talk about is the Ravens."
Yet of all the teams he could have wound up with, Garvin is with their biggest rivals.
"It's exciting. I've always watched [the rivalry] and thought, 'That's tough. I want to be in that,'" Garvin said. "It's a good feeling knowing that I will get my opportunity to be in it."
Garvin, a Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection in 2008, played defensive back and running back at Loyola and helped the Dons win the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship in each of his final three years there. He also was selected for the Crab Bowl, an all-star game featuring Maryland's best high school players.
He has fond memories of playing against Calvert Hall in the Turkey Bowl at M&T Bank Stadium as a teenager. He dreamed then about returning one day as an NFL player, something that could happen when the Ravens host the Steelers on Thanksgiving night.
"It's a cool feeling knowing I will be able to go back there," Garvin said. "It's exciting. Everything is just exciting. I just want to get better every day and keep it going."
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