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STAR: Livings Overcame Early Setbacks with Faith, Focus
This story originally appeared in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
As a history major at LSU, Nate Livings learned the truth behind the saying “History repeats itself.” Then again, through his long and winding path to becoming an NFL starter, he knows beyond anything read in a textbook that the adage is indeed correct.
Signed in March as an unrestricted free agent to a five-year contract following three-plus seasons as a starter in Cincinnati, Livings has brought impressive character, strong veteran leadership, stability and flexibility to the Cowboys’ offensive line.
“It’s just a great group to be around,” the 6-4, 320-pound Livings says of his new teammates in the trenches. “It’s a great hard-working group that goes out to practice with the mindset to get better every play and it’s fun to be around.”
Considering the obstacles that he has had to overcome along the way, the fact that Livings is even here is remarkable and a testament to the man’s dedication and determination.
As a highly regarded lineman coming out of Washington-Marion High School in Lake Charles, La., Livings was recruited by LSU, but ran into some eligibility trouble due to his academics, which forced him to sit out two full seasons.
“In high school, I didn’t think I could ever play college ball, and all they ever told me was you had to have a 1.5 to be on the football team,” the 30-year-old Livings explains. “They never told me about qualifying for college. And then Nick Saban came to my high school and my coach said, ‘Nick wants you to be at LSU,’ but he showed him my transcript for the first time and saw I couldn’t make it. After that point, I worked my butt off to get into college.”
Instead of playing at a junior college, Livings decided to focus all of his energies into fulfilling the NCAA’s academic requirements until he was eligible to enroll at LSU, relying on his faith to help guide him.
“They wanted me to go to JUCO for school, but I basically sat out and just took correspondence courses until I got eligible,” Livings recalls. “I struggled a lot in my younger ages. It’s like my faith in God, when you believe in God and the things that he has for you, you just have to be patient, and that’s pretty much all I tried to do. I’m the type of person that when I make a commitment to something, my word is all I got. I made the commitment to play at LSU, and that’s what I decided to do.”
Once he finally arrived on campus, Livings made an immediate impact, starting 10 games as a sophomore while helping LSU to the 2003 BCS national championship. Besides contributing to a perennial powerhouse, he developed impressive versatility during his time with the Tigers, starting multiple games at every offensive line position except center during his three years as an every-down player.
And while he has primarily been a mainstay at left guard in the NFL with the Bengals the past three-plus seasons, Livings can still line up anywhere and really doesn’t have a preference where he’s deployed, as long as he’s on the field.
“I can play both (guard and tackle),” Livings says. “It doesn’t matter, wherever they need me, I’m pretty much available. The more you can do, the better you can understand the offense and understand the different assignments – you just understand the unit as a whole.”
It was at LSU where Livings indulged in his love of history, earning his degree in less than the usual four years.
“It took me two years to get in, but it took me three-and-a-half to graduate, so I’m proud of that,” says Livings. “I’m a firm believer that history always repeats itself, and I love to learn about my past and the past of others, where I’m at. When I moved to Dallas, I’m in Las Colinas, I want to learn about Las Colinas. That’s just the type of person I am.”
Unfortunately for Livings, history did repeat itself in a way, as he went unclaimed in the 2006 draft and wound up signing as an undrafted free agent with Cincinnati. After attending their training camp, he did not make the Bengals roster, and was instead sent to the practice squad, where he spent the entire season.
He endured the same process in 2007, going through camp with Cincy, getting released at final cuts and then joining the practice squad. He stayed there for the entire year before being promoted to the main roster for the season finale, although he remained inactive.
The next year, history repeated itself once more as he was cut yet again at the end of training camp and was assigned to the practice squad. It was undoubtedly tough to remain positive, but again, Livings’ faith helped him through the adversity.
Finally a door was opened for him when the Bengals were hit with multiple injuries in 2008, which resulted in him being called up to Cincinnati’s roster on Nov. 17. He made his NFL debut as a starter in Game 11 of that season.
“It took a large amount of focus, but it was all about what you want,” Livings says of his mindset during the difficult times. “I wanted to be a football player, I love the game of football. And believe it or not, my faith in God really grew. That two-year period I went through coming out of high school, it really set me up for the two-and-a-half years that I spent on the practice squad. I had opportunities to leave Cincinnati to go to other teams, but just my faith in God kept me there.
“And then the opportunity came, and it was weird. It was around Week 10, a guard and a tackle went down, so I went straight off the practice squad to starting against Pittsburgh that Sunday. My O-Line coach told me, ‘Now is your chance, take advantage of it,’ and that’s what I tried to do. It worked out well.”
There’s no question that Livings seized his opportunity and ran with it, essentially starting every game for the Bengals from then on. He missed a handful of outings, and was limited in a few more, during the 2009 campaign due to a knee injury, but he started all 16 contests in 2010 and again last season.
Then he became a free agent and was thrilled to sign with the Cowboys.
During his time at LSU, Livings developed a strong friendship with current Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears, a teammate on that 2003 championship squad. Spears’ presence here was one of the factors that drew Livings to Dallas, although he admits that he was looking to move to the Metroplex regardless.
“You don’t have to sell anybody on playing for the Dallas Cowboys,” Livings says. “To be honest with you, last year during the lockout, me and my family were actually looking for a home here. We were going to make this our home, and by the grace of God, I ended up here in free agency, so I feel blessed to be here. It’s about five-and-a-half hours from my hometown, so I can easily just shoot in or shoot out. Plus, Marcus was here, too, and me and Marcus and my wife and his wife are like best friends, even since college, so it’s just like a family atmosphere already.”
“I know him well, he’s like family to me, so we are probably closer than people know,” Spears says. “He’s a heck of a football player. He knows what he’s doing. We expect him to be the guy that he’s been the last seven years. He’s resilient – just like all of us, though, we’ve all had to overcome something – but he’s done it the right way. He’s worked himself from the bottom to get to where he is. You just have a lot of respect for a guy like that. When he got his shot, he performed well and that’s what this league is all about. He has the ability to do it for a long time.”
Meaning, with any luck, history of a different kind will continue to repeat itself for Livings, who from his left guard position will hopefully help anchor a young offensive line for several years to come. Read