Craig Stevens Crafting a Career, Both on and Off the Field

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By Lauren McMillin

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Steve Jobs once said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."

For Titans tight end Craig Stevens, doing what he loves is a mantra that he strives to follow. Whether this appears in the form of playing football or enjoying various hobbies, Stevens understands the importance of enjoying life and seizing opportunities that come along with it.

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Entering his seventh season with the Titans, Stevens admitted that he was a late bloomer when he picked up the game of football. "I got interested in football probably in high school, when all of my buddies started playing," he said. "I grew up playing soccer. My family didn't play football. All of my buddies were doing it, so I decided to give it a try."

A native of San Pedro, Calif., Stevens' decision to give football a chance eventually led to the pursuit of a college and, eventually, professional career. "I just wanted to play high school football, and I ended up getting a scholarship to play college football (at California), so I gave that a shot. I played college football, and in my junior and senior years, (my coaches) were like, 'Hey, you might be able to play in the NFL.' I just kept on going. I just worked hard, and it kind of fell into place."

Stevens' commitment paid off when he was drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. "It was really exciting," he said. "It's a stressful day. You don't know what's going to happen."

Surrounded by family and friends, Stevens received a phone call from the Titans and learned that he was their next draft pick. "It was just really emotional," he said. "I'm really excited, I'm really happy that I got picked up and had a career here in Tennessee. It's been amazing. This will be my seventh year. It's been awesome."

When he first joined the Titans, Stevens stood out as a special teams player, becoming the Titans' only rookie to play every game. With two earned starts as a tight end, he had one reception for nine yards and tied for fifth on the team with 10 special teams tackles.

The secret to his success? "Special teams is one of those things, it's just effort," he said. "You've just got to try hard, harder than the next guy. I just kind of ran around recklessly and just gave it everything I had. At the time, we had Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler, who were both really good tight ends, so I kind of played a backup role. I had the opportunity just to kind of focus on special teams."

Over the course of seven years, Stevens has seen several changes within the league, such as recent adjustment to penalty calls and the shift to more of a throwing game. "It seems like the league is really becoming a passing league in the most sense," he said. "It seems like tight ends are lining up as receivers. You have four receivers standing up. You don't really see the run games like you used to, but for the most part, it's the same."

The best change for Stevens came in 2013, when his brother Eric joined the St. Louis Rams and his family suddenly had two football players in the NFL. With Eric also enjoying a four-year career at California, the brothers share a special connection. "I was really proud of him," Stevens said. "First of all, just to go to Cal like I did, and graduate. Then to have the opportunity to play with the Rams and under Coach Fisher, it was really cool to kind of see him following in my footsteps."

While Eric is no longer playing in the league due to injuries, Stevens was still able to have a positive influence on him and offer advice. "When he was playing last year, I just told him to try to stay positive and keep on working," he said. "If you work hard, if you just try harder than the other person, you're probably going to get the job. That's something my dad always taught us, so I try to tell him."

Stevens' father continues to inspire him, even beyond the playing field. In his spare time, Stevens enjoys woodworking, a craft that he picked up from his father. "My dad always used to do that type of thing," he said. "He used to work construction and stuff, and I kind of learned at a young age how to do that. I took high school woodshop, and that really taught me how to use some of those tools. I've just always been interested in it. Why go buy something when you can make it? And probably for a quarter of the price?"

Lately, Stevens has found an interest in fly fishing, adding to the collection of items that he's built over the years. "I've been making these fly fishing landing nets, and that's been pretty cool," he said. "I've made anything from cabinets, to tables, to trunks. I made a really nice chess board. Right now it's tough to continue with making these things because it takes so much time and with football right now, but in the off season I get the garage ready. If my wife sees something she likes, I'll try to make it. For example, I made my son's changing table. I'm probably not the most artistic, so if I just see something that I like or my wife likes, I can copy it."

In the same way that he was encouraged to follow his father's craftsmanship, Stevens said that if he were not playing in the NFL, he would likely follow his father's career path. "My family was always involved in law enforcement," he said. "Two of my brothers are firemen, and my other brother's in the fire academy right now, trying to be a fireman. It's hard to say, but I think the odds are I'd probably be a fireman or a cop. I don't know. I'm just enjoying playing football, and hopefully after, when I'm done here, I could just do what I want, just have the job that I really love."

As he continues his career with the Titans, Stevens looks forward to what the 2014 season holds for the team. "I have very high expectations," he said, "I think everyone does. I really, honestly think we're going to be good. We've been working really hard. I'm speaking for the offense, because that's what I see. I see we're having a lot of success. I think we're throwing the ball really well and running the ball well."

A veteran among the Titans' younger players, Stevens advises them to not give up. "Keep on trying," he said. "Just work hard. It's a short career, so just give it all you've got."

Even though he is no longer a rookie, Stevens still takes his own advice, preparing himself to make this season a successful one. "I just want to catch more balls. I want to be consistent. I want to just play hard, and I just want to win."

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