Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Camp Comes Early

It's only a few weeks to training camp for a half-dozen Buccaneers, as the NFL Europe League prepares to kick off its joint camp at six different locations in the Bay area

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G Kevin Breedlove only got in a few practices as a Buccaneer after signing in late December, but he'll get much more of a Bay area workout with the Rhein Fire

Ben Claxton is going back to high school. And he may end up with a locker right next to Corey Smith and Frank Murphy.

Academically, Claxton finished his high school requirements years ago. In fact, he followed that with a degree from the University of Mississippi and was a national finalist for a prestigious post-graduate scholarship award. So when he hits campus in about three weeks, Claxton won't be bringing any books with him.

In fact, Claxton will likely only visit the school's football field and locker room. He and the rest of the 2004 Berlin Thunder will be spending a month at a local high school in preparation for the upcoming NFL Europe League season.

The NFLEL is returning to Tampa for its joint training camp, having found the set up to its liking for the last three years. All six teams will train for roughly a month in Buccaneer-land, with each squad assigned to a specific high school or college in the Bay area; those six spots have not yet been announced by the league. There are currently six Bucs allocated to the NFLEL this year, with Claxton, Murphy and Smith, a center, wide receiver and defensive end, grouped together on the Thunder. Cornerback Lynaris Elpheage will play for the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy, guard Kevin Breedlove will don Rhein Fire colors and kicker Carlos Martinez is still awaiting his specific assignment.

The Buccaneers could still allocate additional players to the league and in previous years have sent up to 10 men overseas.

The first NFL Europe event in Tampa is actually less than two weeks away. On February 23, a group of more than 70 hopefuls from other nations – what the NFLEL calls 'national players' – will begin a four-day camp that Monday at Jefferson High School, which is within shouting distance of Buccaneer headquarters in Tampa. From that group, 42 men will be chosen to join American players on the NFLEL rosters; each NFLEL team carries eight nationals, with the other six spots going to kickers.

This year, athletes in the national players camp will represent 13 different countries: Austria, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. Last summer, one of those national players, linebacker Shinzo Yamada, joined the Buccaneers in training camp after his NFLEL season and played in the American Bowl in Tokyo, Tampa Bay's opening preseason game.

NFL-allocated players will join the nationals on March 1 to kick off the NFLEL's training camp. Though the practices are held at sometimes out-of-the-way high schools, they very much resemble NFL training camps, complete with two-a-days, position battles and sometimes will-sapping heat and humidity, even in March.

The six teams will conduct camp for three weeks, finishing up with a round of game-condition scrimmages on Sunday, March 21. The players will then jet to Europe in time for the opening weekend of games on April 3-4.

The March 1 report date is the beginning of a long year of football for Claxton and the other NFL-allocated players. After their first training camp in March, they will play a 10-week NFL Europe schedule, potentially followed by an 11th game if their teams make the World Bowl championship game. Those same men, after a break of about a month, will then go to camp again, this time with their NFL teams. If they then make their NFL teams' active rosters, those players could conceivably be immersed in football for the better part of 10 straight months.

And for Claxton, it all starts with a trip back to high school.

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