The text messages started rolling in late Monday.
At first, Blake Costanzo ignored them.
Then, he decided it might be worth his time to see why, all of a sudden, friends were sending him clips from a Twitter account belonging to Alabama Football.
“It’s amazing to think,” Costanzo said on 49ers Talk. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. It’s humbling.”
Costanzo, now 37, spent one season with the 49ers in 2011. He was part of the team’s energizing and tone-setting special-teams unit. Costanzo was the leader of a group known as “The Tony Montana Squad,” for the Future song that got the kickoff coverage unit swaying to the music before running down the field.
In a video that went viral this week, former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith spoke to Nick Saban’s team about coping with anxiety and self-doubt. Saban asked how Smith learned to deal with those obstacles.
Smith cited the lessons he learned from Constanzo during their one season as teammates.
“I don’t even think he knows to this day the effect he had on me,” Smith said.
Sure enough, Costanzo had no idea until he heard the words straight from Smith’s mouth.
“He definitely never shared that with me,” Costanzo said of Smith. “I think it’s cool how it’s come about, but I’m sure we’ll link up and we’ll get a chance to talk and catch up on some things.”
Smith described Costanzo as “one of these crazy guys” and “a little nuts.” But there was certainly a method to Costanzo’s madness, and Smith began to recognize the deeper meaning.
Before games when all the players were preparing in their own way, Costanzo would go around the locker room and ask his teammates, “Are you going to live today?”
“And he’d be like, ‘I’m going to live today! Are you?’” Smith told the Alabama team on the video.
Constanzo and his friend, Chris Partridge, came up with the mantra, “Just livv” — spelled with two v’s, for no reason in particular — as a way to flip a negative into a positive.
Partridge, now the co-defensive coordinator at Ole Miss, was a coach at New Jersey’s Paramus Catholic High School at the time. The football team had a lot of kids from the inner city who experienced hardships off the field, Costanzo said.
“We came up with this saying, ‘Just livv’ or ‘Livv’ for these high school kids when they were going through a moment outside of football,” Costanzo said. “Whether it be in their neighborhood, or at school, where they can say, ‘Just livv,’ and it will change their mindset.
“Think positive, make the right decision in that time period, be the best teammate you can be, be the best son, brother, friend. And we came up with it, and it caught on like fire with the kids.”
Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the 49ers and was considered a disappointment through most of his career with the organization. He struggled on and off the field.
Things turned for him in 2011, as the 49ers had a remarkable first season under coach Jim Harbaugh with an NFC West title and a near-miss in the NFC Championship Game.
That was the season, Smith said, when he embraced the message that Constanzo delivered to his teammates — even if Costanzo did not explicitly tell his teammates what he was driving at.
“It was interesting to see how Alex interpreted it, because it was exactly what we thought it to be,” Costanzo said. “And he took it and made it literal, and I thought that was pretty special that he was able to take that from that.”
Smith said he took Costanzo’s message with him to every team for which he played.
He said that mindset helped him overcome the horrific fractured leg and life-threatening infection. Smith made an improbable return to the playing field last season for Washington. He announced his retirement this offseason.
Costanzo entered the NFL in 2006 after going undrafted following his playing career at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He played seven seasons in the NFL.
Today, he is an assistant high school football coach and still lives — or livvs — and preaches the message he brought to the 49ers 10 years ago.
“I still live my life where I take each day as a blessing,” he said.
Costanzo put together his own highlight film from his college days and wrote letters to every NFL team. He said he was determined to enjoy every minute without obsessing over the pressure that comes with constantly trying to maintain a spot in the league.
“When I was on the football field, I always felt happy and free, a feeling I didn’t get doing a lot of things,” Costanzo said. “That’s just how I live my life, and he (Smith) definitely saw that exude from me because that’s how I live my life.
“All I tried to be was the best teammate I could be when I was out there. Whatever tidbit that I took from guys I played with or what they took from me, I think that’s the essence of football and being a teammate.”