QB Josh Johnson felt the reality of his new job sink in Friday when he first put on his Bucs practice jersey
The anxiety, excitement and butterflies flitting about in his stomach were familiar sensations.
Instead of dense textbooks, unforgiving professors and a rigorous class schedule, Josh Johnson is now facing a thick playbook, fiery coach Jon Gruden and an up-tempo practice routine. The overall effect is the same, however.
"It's like you're a freshman," Johnson said, shortly after his first practice as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. "The way I was thinking about it is like you went from high school to college as a freshman. Now I'm just at the next freshman level for me."
Much like a fresh-faced teenager stepping onto a college campus for the first time, Johnson said he battled some nerves at first on Friday afternoon, the first day of the Buccaneers' rookie mini-camp, but was able to settle down.
"There was a little bit of extra juice, just to be back on the field," Johnson said. "You've got to get your feet wet, but once practice was on it was football again."
Even if the nervous feelings were the same, Johnson realized quickly that he's in a whole new ballgame now.
"It kind of became reality," Johnson said, referring to the first time he pulled on his Buccaneers practice jersey. "Finally today it hit me that I have an opportunity to play for an NFL team, so that's when it sank in."
After shrugging off the butterflies, Johnson faced his next challenge – the Buccaneers' always-intense head coach. Many students say their favorite teachers are the ones that push them hardest, though, and Johnson can already tell that Gruden's passionate approach will be in the young player's best interests.
"Coach Gruden is awesome," Johnson said. "He's intense, but I like coaches like that. It makes you get better when somebody is pushing you all the time. You know everything he's saying is only going to help you; it's not to make you worse. You have to look at it like that.
"He's intense, but he's always telling you something that can only help you. To me, I've been coached like that my whole life, so I'm really used to guys getting in your face. The way I look at it, he's teaching me something so all I can do is listen."
And again, just like a new student, Johnson said his focus is on listening and learning as much as he can.
"I'm just taking [this experience] and trying to learn as much as I can and go out on the field and execute," Johnson said. "I want to come away with a good impression on the coaches that I can learn and get better every day and take coaching. I want to go out and execute and show my teammates around me that I can be a leader.
"I just want to be a great team player and learn from the veterans and learn from coach Gruden and just continue to get better every day. Hopefully when I get my opportunity to play I'll just take it and run with it."
Freshman are pretty easy to spot during the first week of school, struggling to find their classes and acclimate to a new schedule. Johnson is still feeling his way around in this new and busy NFL life.
"You've got to stay mentally focused," Johnson said. "It's a long day. We've been up since six o'clock with no breaks. There's always something going on. If you're not in meetings you're on the practice field. There's not a lot of down time. You've just got to stay mentally in it all day."
Luckily for Johnson, he actually has a familiar face nearby to help him through the process – a fellow "classmate," if you will. That would be receiver Wes Doyle, a teammate of Johnson's at San Diego in town to participate in the rookie minicamp on a tryout contract.
"It helped out a lot, because I know how Wes runs his routes," Johnson said. "That's why every time I throw to Wes it's more comfortable because we throw to each other every day. Eventually it'll get like that with the rest of the receivers more and more as we work with each other."
How would Gruden grade Johnson's performance so far? Let's just say it's an incomplete at this point, but Gruden sees promise in his young charge.
"It's going to be a work in progress, but you see athletic ability," Gruden said. "We've got a long way to go – that's about the best way I can sum it up. But work will get done and it will take some time."
Johnson assessed his first days as a Buccaneer similarly. Much like a first-year student staring down a long semester ahead, Johnson knows that much hard work and learning lie ahead before he can emerge as a productive signal-caller for the pewter and red.
"It was more positive than negative, but there are a lot of things I can get better on," Johnson said. "There's always something you can get better on."