Bucs RB/KR Clifton Smith and his large group of family and friends will have a busy week in Honolulu, Hawaii leading up to Sunday's Pro Bowl game
*Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Clifton Smith traveled an unbelievable path in 2008.
Smith joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in May and spent the first half of the 2008 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before being called up to the active roster in late October. From that point on, incredibly, he exploded onto the scene as one of the NFL's most dangerous return men.
Smith posted 1,316 total return yards – the second-highest total in team history – and became the first player in team history to score on both a punt and a kickoff return. As a result, he was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad as the team's return man, the first Buccaneer ever to fill that position in the all-star game. Smith became just the third NFL player since 1970 to be selected to the Pro Bowl in the same year he entered the league as an undrafted free agent.*
*Along with cornerback Ronde Barber and guard Davin Joseph, Smith is in Hawaii to represent the Bucs in the league's annual all-star game set to be played this Sunday. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was also selected for the Pro Bowl but will not play due to pre-existing injuries.
Smith has been to the 50th state before; his alma mater, Fresno State, visited the University of Hawaii on occasion. But this trip across the Pacific will be a unique one for the Bucs' rookie, and he has agreed to share the experience with Buccaneer fans. Smith arrived in Honolulu on Monday and will be doing a running diary on Buccaneers.com throughout the Pro Bowl week, detailing his experiences in Hawaii up to and even after the game.*
Here is the first entry in Smith's "Pro Bowl Diary:"
"I think that might have been the longest flight I've ever taken in my life. The flight was good, it was just long. My attention span is kind of short, so I was just getting a little frustrated about the travel time, but overall, as far as the travel goes, it was good. It was a good flight.
"When I first got over here, I was kind of anxious. But we had a big meeting with everybody, so I met a couple of the guys. I found out how funny Peyton Manning really is. He kind of has that dry humor, but it is just hilarious.
"We also had our first practice on Tuesday. That was probably the greatest practice of my life. When I get to sit on a water cooler all practice, it was a great time.
"It was also kind of crazy to see so many superstars on the same field all at once. I'm always a fan first. No matter how far this game takes me, I'll always be a fan. I was out there with Clinton Portis and Adrian Peterson, Peyton and Eli Manning, and then sitting across from Ray Lewis in our meetings when we first got together. It's been a humbling experience just being in their presence. I know it'll be a great game this Sunday.
"We also had time for some fun stuff off the field. We just got done doing this army simulator where you go into kind of an army training base. They took us into a simulator where you shoot actual guns, but they take the guts out of the guns and it's kind of like you're in a video game. You're inside of this room and you're lying down on the ground shooting at enemies on the screen. It was a great time.
"I'm not the only one that will be enjoying the trip to Hawaii though. In my group, I've got my best friend Marcus; my girlfriend came with me; I've got my mom and dad, my dad's wife, my uncle, both aunts, like six cousins, my mom's best friend, both my sisters, my little nephew and a couple of my dad's friends came out here also. It's got to be somewhere around 20 or 25 people.
"We haven't had a chance to do a lot together yet, because only a couple of them have showed up so far. A bunch of them will be getting in on Wednesday. One thing I might do Wednesday though is me and my dad are going to go play golf in the evening.
"The NFL also has some events planned for us. We have a luau on Wednesday at Paradise Cove. We also have family day on Saturday at the stadium and we have a party Wednesday night for family and friends.
"It was important to me to bring along all these people in my group because they're the people that have watched me growing up and have been around me ever since I was a kid. Anything I've ever needed, they've always provided it for me. It was also important to bring my family out here just because they've contributed a lot to my success getting to this point and they've always helped me with anything I've needed. I just wanted to be able to give them a great vacation and a good time coming out here to watch me play the sport that I love doing the most.
"I had been kind of anxious and excited as my trip got closer and closer, but now that I'm here in Hawaii, I think I feel more of a sense of belonging. I feel like I belong in the NFL and this is something that was made for me to do. The biggest thing I'm ready for now is just to go out there and play the game."