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For Baggs, All The World's A Stage

Well-traveled linebacker tries to carve out NFL role

Linebacker Stevie Baggs takes part in a recent workout.
Linebacker Stevie Baggs takes part in a recent workout.

His nickname, because Stevie Baggs was noticeably pigeon-toed, was "Crazy Legs."

Not surprisingly, Baggs wasn't especially fond of the moniker. Then a pair of brothers who were also college teammates at Bethune-Cookman – Jamal and Rashad Muhammad – bestowed him with something different.

"Dude, you make so many plays," Baggs recalled Rashad saying, "we're going to call you 'Shakespeare.' "

"So I've tried to live up to the name," Baggs said, sitting in the Cardinals' locker room.

On the field, it's been a difficult task, bouncing from league to league, waiting for his first true shot in the NFL. But the outside linebacker has already become a renaissance man of sorts, using a breakout year in the Canadian Football League to engineer an impressive website (steviebaggs57.com) and Twitter account (Twitter.com/steviebaggs57).

The message on the webpage – "philanthropist," "athlete," "entrepreneur" – seems flamboyant for a player still looking for his place. But finding an easy way to explain Baggs is impossible. He may pantomime putting a quarterback into a bag after a sack, but most of his tweets are Bible-related themes meant to inspire people and his charitable foundation's site -- cetafoundation.org – is just as important to him as his own. He is supremely confident in his own abilities, but he has no problem taking footwork tips at a workout from cornerback Michael Adams – three years Baggs' junior.

"(Baggs) is not a simple man," Cardinals linebackers coach Matt Raich said. "It just shows he knows it is a big world out there. He has a complexity to him."

As complex as the career he has forged.

Baggs came out of Bethune-Cookman in 2004, the same draft class as Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett. But Baggs went unchosen, saying his decision to stay away from Bethune-Cookman's pro day because of a sore hamstring cost him with NFL teams.

He signed with the Lions after training camp in 2004 and spent an even shorter time with the Jaguars a year later. In between, he played in NFL Europe. Then came the start of his stint in the CFL (with three franchises), interrupted only briefly by some time with the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators. Every stop was marred by something – an ill-timed injury, high-profile players ahead of him on the depth chart.

Assuming Baggs gets to Flagstaff with the Cardinals – which he should – it'll be his first NFL training camp. Seven seasons removed from college.

"This feels like where I belong," Baggs said. "Everything I have been through from high school to this point has been about showing how resilient I am and how much I want to be in this game we chose.

"Adversity has been the wind beneath my feet. Even when people said I should give up the game I always knew I had the ability to play this game. Getting a chance to prove that on the highest level, that's all you want."

The Cardinals are just seeking pass-rushing linebackers. They brought in the CFL's leading sack man of 2008, Cameron Wake, for a visit last offseason before the Dolphins paid Wake more than $1 million to come to Miami. Baggs, whose 12 sacks tied for the CFL lead in 2009 while he played for Saskatchewan, signed this offseason instead.

Raich acknowledged Baggs, as a player, is "an unknown." There's no way to truly tell if his skills translate to Arizona's defense until Baggs gets some playing time in the preseason. But Raich has been impressed with Baggs' effort in the offseason work, and his desire to learn the playbook.

Baggs has also formed a bond with some teammates already. Adams worked out with someone who played with Baggs in Canada, and the friend made sure the two sought out one another once both got to Arizona. Adams and Baggs have already formed a friendship, including taking on each other in bowling.

"Instantly, we clicked," said Adams, who has also had to fight to stay on an NFL roster. "A lot of guys who go through those types of things, we can relate because we have been through a lot. We can sit around and talk about the dog days. It makes you respect them as a person.

"Stevie is really a humble guy. He is a good guy to be around."

Baggs emphasizes that point himself. His CETA foundation (the acronym stands for Creating Empowerment Through Autonomy) helps at-risk communities and children and remains a centerpiece of Baggs' life. And whatever he does on the field to emotionally punctuate a play, or even how he portrays himself off the field, is about celebrating his perseverance.

"I don't mean to disrespect anyone when I celebrate after making a play, but after everything you have been through as a player, you want to show everyone you are giving thanks you are able to play," Baggs said.

"I have the confidence in my ability. At the same time, there is a humility that goes with that because humility comes before honor. I know I have to pay my dues even though I've been around seven years. It is a fine line. Once your teammates see what you're about, you can let it rip."

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