Anthony Levine has a large tattoo outlining the state of Louisiana on his back, but he's hardly had a chance to prove himself there.
On Monday Night Football, it will be the Abbeville, La., native's first regular-season game near home in the Superdome.
Levine wasn't a big-time prospect coming out of Louisiana. He played college football at little Tennessee State. He was undrafted, cut by his first team and unemployed for about three months.
Levine's NFL career hasn't been like a stroll down Bourbon Street. It hasn't been Big Easy.
Now when Levine goes back to face the Saints, he'll be playing in front of a lot of family as a starting cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens. And even most of his extended family won't be entirely behind him.
"I've tried to convert some of them to Ravens fans, but they just aren't having it," Levine said with a laugh. "They say, 'I love you, but I'm going to die a Saints fan.'"
Levine has replaced Jimmy Smith in the Ravens defense. He got high praise after his first test against the Tennessee Titans before the bye, but he will be in for a whole other level of difficulty against quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints.
And the pressure is on with Smith out for the rest of the season due to a foot injury. Levine will be a big part of the defense during the playoff chase – something that didn't seem imaginable not long ago.
"I am just really gratified, as a coach, to see where he's at," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"Now, he has challenges in front of him, and he'll be the first to tell you he has a lot to prove, but I think that's why he's where he's at because he believes he has a lot to prove. He takes that kind of attitude with him to work every day."
After going undrafted in 2010, Levine was originally signed by the Green Bay Packers. He made the team's practice squad in his first year, and was on the roster when they won Super Bowl XLV. While he got a ring, he didn't feel like he was a part of it.
Levine was cut coming out of training camp during his second year, and this time the Packers didn't immediately call back. Levine spent 11 weeks without a job. He* *looked into re-enrolling at Tennessee State's psychology department. He wanted to get into sports or child psychology, and was ready to start classes during their second semester.
"I was very close to leaving the NFL," Levine said. "I was trying to work out for anybody, just get a workout. Nobody wanted to work me out or anything."
Ultimately, the Packers called and brought Levine back to finish the season in Green Bay. They cut him again after the next summer's training camp, but this time Levine had proven himself with a strong preseason.
Heading into the summer of 2012, the Ravens and Falcons were interested. Levine rolled the dice going with Baltimore even though he thought he might have a better chance of sticking in Atlanta.
"I picked Baltimore only because of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed," Levine said. "You can't pass up a chance to meet those guys and learn from them."
Levine became somewhat close with Reed, who mentored him as a young fellow safety. Levine was too nervous to befriend Lewis, though, he admits. Lewis would talk to him sometimes, but Levine was too bashful to even ask Lewis for his autograph.
Turns out, three other men had an even bigger impact on Levine's career: cornerback Corey Graham, safety James Ihedigbo and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. All three were special teams standouts who eventually carved a niche on defense and were key members of the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII team.
Levine said Graham, especially, was his role model.
"They made me change my whole outlook on special teams," Levine said. "It became fun and something I wanted to dominate . My whole goal became being a Pro Bowl special teamer."
Levine also developed a close relationship with Ravens Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
"I just felt that even when I wasn't playing well, he always believed in me," Levine said. "When you feel like somebody believes in you that much, you work that much harder for them."
Everything was going well for Levine in 2012. He suited up for his first NFL game on Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh and performed so well on special teams that he had an expanded role on the unit the next week heading into San Diego.
Then came the next hurdle – in the form of 6-foot-2, 265-pound linebacker Melvin Ingram.
"I remember like it happened just now," Levine said. "I'm running down like a deer and Ingram came out from behind a trap block and I didn't see him. He definitely laid the boom on me. It was ugly."
The hit broke Levine's collarbone, sending him to injured reserve after just two NFL games. He waited more than two years for his first break and it ended with a break. And for a second time, Levine was on the sideline during a Super Bowl run.
"It was crushing," he said. "I was talking to my dad and mom and kind of depressed. I finally got a chance and this happened."
Levine came back last season and kept grinding away on special teams. He finished the year second on the team in special teams tackles (11), trailing linebacker Albert McClellan by one. During that process, Levine used his special teams work to hone his skills as a defensive back.
"It's been my experience that guys that perform on special teams perform on offense or defense when they get their opportunity," Harbaugh said. "There are plenty of guys that think they can play offense and defense and aren't good on special teams and get a rude awakening in this league, and they're usually out of the league pretty quickly. Anthony is not one of those guys."
Levine began this season on special teams, but coaches also noticed that he could be a valuable cornerback, as well.
They gave him a shot to play the position in the final preseason game, also in New Orleans. Levine proved himself then, and continued to do so in practices when the Ravens were short on cornerbacks. When Smith went down, Defensive Coordiantor Dean Pees tabbed Levine because Levine "competed as well as anybody and deserved to start."
Levine split first-team practice reps with Danny Gorrer, who was signed the week leading up to the Tennessee Week 10 game. Levine wasn't sure he was going to start until hours before facing the Titans.
When he got word, he grew so nervous that he nearly vomited three times. He asked running back Justin Forsett for help, and the two prayed together.
Levine turned in a standout performance, notching four tackles and two pass deflections. He proved he can do it. And now he's going to have to keep it going, starting with Monday night against the Saints. "I can't put it in words about how emotional it is starting," Levine said. "Doing it the long way, the hard way, is so much more satisfying. I had to work for it instead of it being handed to me."