Boston College free safety Jamie Silva learned from his grandfather long ago that one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Silva never could have known that old adage would apply to his football career, too.
Silva, a senior from East Providence, R.I., was one of the last players to receive a scholarship from Boston College in 2003. Two other players had to turn down the Eagles before Silva was offered, and Indiana was the only other Division I-A program that actively recruited him.
Four years later, Silva has become the emotional leader of a defense that has helped the Eagles climb to unprecedented heights. Second-ranked Boston College is one of only five unbeaten teams left in major college football heading into Saturday night's game against Florida State (ABC, 8 ET) at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
"He loves football and loves to play football," Boston College defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani said. "It's important to him and he loves doing it. But it's never work to him, and it's never anything other than a lot of fun. I believe that's a carryover from his free-spirit nature. To a lot of guys, it's a little bit of drudgery, but it's never work to him."
Silva, 22, has become the cleanup man for Boston College's defense. He is tied for fifth nationally with five interceptions and is second on the team with 55 tackles. Silva has 11 interceptions and three fumble recoveries during his four-year career.
"He's an extremely physical guy," Spaziani said. "He's a heat-seeking missile."
Off the field, Silva is a cleanup man, too. For the past several years, he has scoured trash cans and Dumpsters for hidden treasures. It's a trade he learned from his maternal grandfather, Bob Bellamy.
"We don't like it, but they do it," said Debra Bellamy, the player's mother. "We hide behind the car seats. My mother has been with my dad and it's horrifying. They love it and it's always a big find for them. It's crazy, but that's what they do."
Silva, one of 17 Boston College players who already have earned their degrees, said his foraging helped pay his way through college. After sifting through residential trash and diving into commercial Dumpsters for several hours a day, Silva usually has acquired enough items to sell on E-bay and other online auction sites.
Silva estimates he has earned $4,000-$6,000 in the past two years through his rummaging.
"It's been passed down through the family," Silva said. "My grandfather is an expert trash picker. It's not bad at all. That's how I survived through college, paying to go on dates and movies and stuff."
Debra Bellamy, a high school teacher who coached her son in track, isn't very fond of his hobby, but admits it has been profitable.
"It takes care of everything for him," Bellamy said. "It pays for spring break and everything else."
Silva said there's more to garbage gleaning than simply turning over a trash can. A Dumpster diver has to know the routes of sanitation workers -- a neighborhood on the next day's schedule is typically the best hunting ground. Silva and his friends also target more affluent residential areas for more valuable discarded items.
"It's amazing the stuff people throw out," said Phil Price, one of Silva's best friends from East Providence and a fellow trash collector. "It's come to the point where people throw out so much good stuff that we might turn this into a legitimate business."
Price said Silva's motto before each hunt is, "Turn trash into cash."
"That's what we say every time we go out," said Price, who works at a chemical asphalt company. "His grandfather is the king of the whole chain. He definitely tops us. He gets all the good stuff. It's not just one thing. He's just consistent. Whether it's fishing poles, tools, whatever, he'll have it. Then again, he's retired. He's got all that time to look for stuff. I guess that's what I've got to look forward to -- spending all my time looking for treasures."
Silva said his most valuable treasure to date is a collection of nearly 600 movies -- not DVDs but outdated laser discs that resemble vinyl records. Silva found two laser-disc players on eBay and kept the collection of movies.
Because Silva usually forgets to lock his bike on campus, it ends up stolen. No problem. Silva's grandfather recently found him a discarded mountain bike that needed only new handlebar grips.
We just drive around. If we're bored, we take a drive around town and see what neighborhoods have trash day the next day and we'll just creep around. Once in a while, we'll head over to the Dumpsters, too.
Boston College safety Jamie Silva
"We just drive around," Silva said. "If we're bored, we take a drive around town and see what neighborhoods have trash day the next day and we'll just creep around. Once in a while, we'll head over to the Dumpsters, too."
Price said he and Silva have scoured Dumpsters behind cell phone stores for discarded phones that still work. When the semester ends at Boston College and other schools, they'll sift through trash looking for used textbooks, which they sell to bookstores and on the Internet. One time, Price and Silva discovered an antique English doll (worth $800) and a wedding band (valued at $3,500) in the same jewelry box in a Dumpster.
"It can just be a cardboard box or anything," Price said. "You never know what you're going to find. You never know where there's a treasure chest."
Bellamy said some of her son's treasures have become invaluable. He has found several discarded snow blowers and refurbished them. Price said his garage is filled with a vending machine and refrigerator they're trying to restore, along with a used Craftmatic bed.
Silva said his Boston College teammates didn't know what to think of his hobby at first. Last year, Silva persuaded running back Andre Callender to accompany him on a treasure hunt.
"At first, I was like, 'I don't know about this, Jamie,'" Callender said. "He told me, 'You've just got to jump right in. It will be fun.'"
By the end of a 10-hour day, they'd found a couple of working TVs, a mini-refrigerator and a radio.
"He was asking me when we could go again," Silva said.
Silva's teammates might believe much of his wardrobe comes from Dumpsters. He'll show up for road trips wearing plaid pants, bright shirts and unusual belts.
"Jamie is a unique person," Callender said. "He's a one-of-a-kind kid, that's probably the best way to describe him. But he pulls it off. He's probably the only guy that could pull it off."
Silva said he buys most of his clothes from thrift stores and secondhand shops, but sometimes finds new vintage clothing. When one of Debra Bellamy's aunts passed away, Silva found a boatload of vintage clothing in the attic of her home.
"He'll look like he's dressing for a play sometimes," Spaziani said. "It's almost so unique that you think he has to spend time thinking about what to wear. But then you go, 'Wait, maybe he didn't spend any time.'"
Every once in a while, Debra Bellamy puts her foot down. After the Eagles beat North Carolina State 37-17 on Sept. 8, Silva walked out of the Eagles' locker room wearing a flannel, three-piece plaid suit. He had borrowed it from his roommate, Ryne Reynoso, a pitcher in the Atlanta Braves' minor league system.
"It was horrible," Debra Bellamy said. "He got a kick out of it, but I was horrified. We went shopping and got him something decent to wear after that."
Before the season, Bellamy tried to persuade her son to cut his long hair. But when the Eagles started winning, Silva's teammates told him to keep growing it.
The hard-hitting safety nobody wanted has become the Samson of Boston College.
And the Sanford and Son of Chestnut Hill, too.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.