Dolphins receiver Marcus Thigpen is accustomed to performing with little job security.
In 2009, he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League after going undrafted out of Indiana.
Even now, after proving himself in the CFL – becoming the first player to score a touchdown in five different ways – and becoming the Dolphins' returner the past two seasons, his roster spot is still not guaranteed.
At training camp, Thigpen is battling Damian Williams, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns and rookie Matt Hazel for one or two roster spots behind starters Brandon Gibson, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and second-round pick Jarvis Landry.
"The competition (at receiver) is pretty fierce," said coach Joe Philbin.
But Thigpen, a 28-year old football journeyman, is used beating odds longer than his 5-foot-9 frame.
He almost didn't become the player who electrified Dolphins fans with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills and the team's first touchdown of 2012 with a 72-yard punt return against the Houston Texans.
With Thigpen's self-esteem drained after being cut three times in 2009, he thought about giving up his football dreams.
"It's been a lot of times where I just wanted to pack it up and quit and get a regular 9-to-5. But my wife has always been there for me, I've got a great group of friends, and they always push me to strive," Thigpen said. "They'll always say 'you didn't come this far for nothing. Just keep fighting.'"
Thigpen had a regular job that's also a passion of his -- he worked at a group home for nine months where he trying to mold young men -- and his family had just welcomed a baby girl. He was content.
Just two days after he made the decision, he got a call from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and a new plan was formed. Thigpen would give it one more shot.
"I started that first game, returned two kicks that game, and the rest was history," Thigpen said.
Now, Thigpen is just trying to keep the dream alive.
Though he averaged 12.2 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kickoff return in 2012, both numbers dropped off in 2013. He averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff, 7.8 yards per punt return and didn't score any touchdowns.
And after he earned the job from veteran Devone Bess three years ago, Thigpen has some youthful challengers.
Thigpen is competing with Landry, cornerback Brent Grimes and Williams to return kicks. Without many reps as a receiver or running back, the versatile Thigpen is in jeopardy of being cut again if he is replaced as returner.
However Thigpen believes he fits into new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's system. He likes the motion and shifts designed to get receivers open. He said the spread offense will get him in space and allow him to make plays as a receiver.
Lazor likes what he brings to the table as a receiver too.
"Marcus has shown a lot of ability, his ability to play in space obviously has been well-noted, to carry the ball in space on his returns," Lazor said. "You had a chance to see him in a couple of roles offensively last year. We thought at this point putting him in the wide receiver position would give him a chance to try to accelerate his learning, to try to become a master at that so we could evaluate how well he does it."
If Thigpen is cut from the Dolphins it won't be for lack of hard work, he said. Thigpen said he's in the gym two or three times per day, just so he can be prepared for the rigors of the season by gaining more speed and strength.
The weight room also helped him cope with tragedy.
"Just going there kind of eases my mind. I had a rough offseason -- my father passed away and that was one thing that helped me get my mind off it," he said. "I would go in there and just kill the weights and spend the rest of the time with my family. That's just a part of me."
The football life of Thigpen has always taken him down a winding road, but despite the ups-and-downs he just keeps following the curves.
"It's all about persevering, just being determined and dedicated," Thigpen said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun