Rayna Stewart doesn't allow himself to feel too secure. Experience has taught him that.
Three teams in three seasons taught Stewart that professional football, for players such as him, is a here-today, gone-tomorrow game, and even after having carved out a starting job for himself, Stewart is wary.
"I came into the league as a special teams hopeful. It's not forgetting where you came from," Stewart said of his career, an odyssey that has taken him from Tennessee to Miami to Jacksonville, and from the waiver wire to the starting free safety job with the Jaguars.
This was the season of his life, until a knee injury sent him to the sideline for the month of October. Now, he's recovered from the knee injury and he's ready to reestablish his presence at a position that's been taken over by Mike Logan.
Stewart became a starter this season when Carnell Lake's foot injury landed him on the injured reserve list, and though Stewart had reason to celebrate, he also had to remember the bad times: Two weeks a year ago when he was cut by the Dolphins and found himself, his wife and his six-year-old son homeless and having to live with friends.
"The low point in my career was being cut and not knowing what was going to happen. The first time, at Tennessee, was the worst. The Miami thing put us in the worst shape family-wise. My wife just stopped working and we had sold the house in Tennessee. We had no income and couldn't buy a house. We had to stay with friends until I signed here," Stewart said.
With the Jaguars, Stewart established himself on special teams. He was earning a paycheck, again, covering kicks and punts, again. Life was back to normal.
Then, last winter, he got some unsolicited advice from Lonnie Marts and Gary Walker, with whom Stewart had been teammates in Tennessee. Marts and Walker told Walker that it was time for him to change his ways; that it was time for him to dedicate himself to being something more than a journeyman special teams player.
"From an attitude standpoint, he's a better player. From a work ethic standpoint, he's a better player. From a knowledge standpoint, he's a better player. I attribute that to players such as Marts and Walker," Jaguars defensive backs coach Perry Fewell said of Stewart.
The transformation has been good for Stewart. It's been great for the Jaguars, who found themselves in dire need of a free safety when it was learned Lake couldn't play this season.
All of a sudden, Stewart's career had taken an abrupt turn upward. He was more than a special-teamer. He has income and a home, but, never security.
"My perspective shouldn't change. To continue to get better and to work to get better is my perspective. I never have been able to set up shop. You take each year as it comes, and when the time is up, the time is up, but I'll do everything I can to prolong it," he said.
What he's done in Jacksonville is impress his coaches with a desire to be physical. He did that on special teams last season, and he did that this summer at free safety, knocking himself groggy after a crushing hit on a wide receiver in the preseason game against the Giants.
The greatest demand of a free safety is that he be a forceful and sure tackler. Stewart sharpened those skills on four years of special teams duty.
"I think he has a place in this league," Fewell said of Stewart. "I think he can help us be a better defense and a better team."
"It's here now, so what am I going to do with it?" Stewart asked of the opportunity he has with the Jaguars.
"I don't know how long this is going to last. I'll play like this is going to last forever," he added.