FORT WAYNE – Damarlo Belcher didn't hesitate when the opportunity to play football again came up.
The former Indiana receiver and North Side standout jumped at the opportunity to play in Saturday's AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
"It was a big relief," Belcher said of the email invite to the college all-star game. "I just felt like I had another chance. I messed up before. I ain't going to mess up again. It is just an opportunity I'm thankful for, and that I'm going to take full advantage of."
Saturday's game will be the first time Belcher has played since he had two receptions for 21 yards in a 59-7 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 15.
Belcher didn't appear in the Hoosiers' next game, a 45-24 loss at Iowa on Oct. 22, because of an injury, and after being suspended for IU's 59-38 homecoming loss to Northwestern on Oct. 29, he was dismissed from the program for violation of team rules two days later.
"I was devastated," Belcher said of his removal from the team. "It took awhile for reality to hit me in the face. … Coach (Kevin) Wilson did the right thing. I didn't. I could have handled my situation in a different way and I didn't. He did what he had to do."
Belcher, 23, is no stranger to difficult situations.
"He's been through so much, and he's overcome so much adversity just to play high school basketball and play high school football, let alone get an opportunity to play at Indiana," said South Side assistant basketball coach Dave Davis, who was Belcher's junior varsity basketball coach and a varsity assistant at North Side.
"I wish he would have been able to finish his Indiana career on a more positive note, but his talent has never been questioned."
The 6-foot-5, 214-pounder had 25 receptions for 286 yards with a touchdown in six games last season.
He left the IU program No. 2 all time on the school's career receptions list with 189, and he had 2,225 career receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
"He is one of those freak-athlete kind of guys," said Bluffton football coach Casey Kolkman, who coached Belcher at North Side. "He was one of those guys when you watch him in practice or on film or watch him play basketball, it almost looked like he was nonchalant, like he didn't care. Then you start to realize that he is that much more fluid than everyone else is."
Belcher remained at IU after he was removed from the football team.
He is no longer on scholarship but is paying his own way as he tries to finish his degree in recreational sports management. Belcher said he is on the waiting list for a class that would give him 15 credit hours this semester and let him earn his degree in May.
"I'm more proud of the fact that even though he went through all the adversity that he went through he's still at Indiana trying to finish his degree," Davis said. "That's got to be really difficult under the circumstances. To walk around on that campus with everybody looking at you and knowing what is going on and you are still trying to hold your head high and finish what you started. I'm more proud of him for that than I am for anything he is doing with football."
Along with pursuing a degree, Belcher made sure to stay in shape.
He worked out an agreement with Wilson to be allowed to use IU's training facilities when the team wasn't there and train with members of the Hoosiers' strength and conditioning staff.
"It feels kind of awkward, but me and coach Wilson, we worked some stuff out," Belcher said. "I always knew coach Wilson was a great guy. We came up with a conclusion and found a way so I could work out and still use the facilities. I'm glad we worked that out. If I couldn't have done that, it would have made my situation a lot harder. He definitely looked out for me on that part."
Belcher arrived in California on Monday and worked with 100 other draft-eligible players under the direction of Super Bowl-winning coaches Tom Flores and Dick Vermeil. He is scheduled to return Sunday.
"I just kept working hard and believing that something was going to work out for me," Belcher said. "I got that email, and I lucked up. It's just another opportunity to showcase my talents, so I'm thankful for that."