Chiefs safety Quintin Demps moved slowly at his locker, his back to the media gathered there to speak to him.
It was Sunday, maybe a half hour after the Chiefs’ 24-7 victory over the Raiders, and Demps had just gotten his third interception in as many games. Even as a backup, Demps had surpassed his career-high for picks in a season with 10 games remaining.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that Demps was a failed draft pick in Philadelphia, where Chiefs coach Andy Reid picked him. Now 28, Demps admits he was immature as a rookie. Football, much like life, has a way of humbling you.
“My favorite quote, which I wear (on a T-shirt) under my pads, is, ‘No struggle, no progress,’” Demps said after the game. “Adversity burdens you, but it can make you (better) sometimes.”
A fourth-round pick in 2008 out of UTEP, the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Demps showed promise as a rookie and was well-positioned to replace star safety and Eagles franchise icon Brian Dawkins.
“I drafted him and liked him,” Reid said of Demps. “He was a young kid and at that point there wasn’t a lot of time to grow. When you step in for Brian Dawkins, your grace period is zero.”
Demps was a four-year college starter who made 17 career interceptions and boasted a respectable 4.55-second 40-yard dash time. But when the Eagles didn’t award him Dawkins’ old job during 2009 training camp, Demps called it “irritating.” He also told Philadelphia reporters that if he knew “it would be like this” he “probably would have worked extra.”
Shortly after, the Eagles made Victor “Macho” Harris their starter at safety. Demps played in only nine games and was waived before the start of the 2010 season.
Things got worse. He went unsigned for two months before signing with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League, where he played for a month before finding his way back to the NFL with the Houston Texans in December 2010. He finished the year with the Texans but was again released before the start of the next season.
He didn’t let himself wallow in self-pity. Demps did his best to stay in shape, and it paid off nearly two months later when the Texans brought him back to replace injured starter Danieal Manning.
Demps signed a multi-year contract after racking up 23 tackles and two interceptions in only nine games during 2011. In 2012, he finished with a career-high 35 tackles, but a broken thumb and broken forearm limited him to 12 games, and he didn’t have a single interception.
“Like I said, no struggle, no progress,” Demps said with a laugh. “I was running around with two casts. I didn’t finish the season well because of that.”
The Texans eventually cut him, but by the time he’d latched on with the Chiefs in May, he’d learned a few lessons — like not taking his career for granted.
Demps likes to joke that he finally learned this when his body started hurting after every practice, but in reality, the roller-coaster experiences he’s had in the league have done more to shape him than anything.
“I just know, man,” Demps said. “I just know how the league is. I might play 10 (more years). Who knows?
“I know I’m not going to be here too much longer in the league. It’s now or never for me, man. So I’m coming with it.”
After six games in Kansas City, Reid can see the growth in Demps since their Philadelphia days.
“He went on and has had a very nice career,” Reid said. “He did a nice job for the Texans; now, we’re lucky enough to have him. He brings a good presence, a veteran leadership presence, and also he makes plays.”
When he’s not returning kickoffs for the Chiefs — Demps leads the team with a 35.2-yard average in five returns — he’s also being used in the defensive backfield in certain sub packages, where he leads the team in interceptions and is second on the team in pass deflections with eight despite playing fewer than half the snaps of most of the defensive starters.
“You’re talking about a guy with amazing range,” Chiefs cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “He can go sideline-to-sideline and make plays, and that’s what you’ve seen. He just brings another athletic playmaker to an already athletic defense.”
For all the praise, though, Demps has remained humble. After each pick, he’s gone out of his way to credit the front seven for creating the pressure.
“Those guys, they cause havoc on quarterbacks,” Demps said. “So our biggest job in the secondary is to keep the deep ball off of us and catch the ball.”
That mission will not change Sunday, when the Chiefs play host to Houston. Demps is adamant he harbors no ill will toward the Texans or coach Gary Kubiak.
“I love Houston, I do,” Demps said. “And I love coach Kubiak — that’s my man to this day. It’s a great organization … (general manager) Rick Smith and the (whole) team, I love those guys.”
But Demps is perfectly fine in Kansas City, where a strong start has given him hope he has finally found a home with the Chiefs.
“It just brings out the hunger, because I started the season so well,” Demps said. “With those injuries (in Houston), I ended (the 2012 season) like a cornball, you know? I didn’t play well. So it’s really in my spirit to really be consistent and finish the season strong.”