Buccaneers offensive lineman Evan Smith is a modest guy in every sense of the word. It may be a symptom of the position he plays; offensive linemen aren't ever given the credit they deserve within the game of football. In fact, they may play the most important role on the team, but usually fly under the radar, regardless.
Smith seems to operate that way both on and off the field. Had it not been for certain staff members within the Buccaneers organization and USAA, his generosity toward members of the military this season may have flown under the radar, as well.
Back in August, during Buccaneers Training Camp, the Bucs and USAA hosted an NFL Bootcamp for military members. After enjoying a practice that was closed off to everyone but active duty and veteran members of the military, 30 men and women competed in an NFL-style skills competition. The winners received tickets to the Buccaneers' Salute to Service game against the New York Jets this Sunday.
Smith was one of the players that came over after practice was finished to take part in the bootcamp and cheer participants on.
Not wanting to take away from the competition aspect of the event, Smith quietly went over to a Buccaneers community relations staffer after the winners were announced. Smith told him that he would like to purchase tickets for the remaining military members out of his own pocket.
"This was definitely a great opportunity to for me to step up and do something big and I felt that it was a good thing to do," Smith said. "They all deserve to be there so it was important.
"I just wanted them all to come and enjoy what they've given us the opportunity to do."
Smith understands the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make. His connection to the military is not limited to the NFL military initiatives he has been a part of.
"I have strong ties with the military in my family: my brother, my parents; a lot of history there," Smith explained. "These people sacrifice enough, so me sacrificing a couple dollars of my own so they can come watch us play is nothing."
Smith purchased 50 lower level seats for military members and their families who will be in attendance this Sunday as the Bucs take on the Jets.
As part of the NFL's Salute to Service week, Smith also took the opportunity to tour MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa with other Bucs players, cheerleaders and front office staff on Tuesday – the players' day off. It was just another opportunity to be involved in military appreciation efforts for Smith.
"It's a great opportunity because I get to meet a lot of military personnel and it's really awesome when you shake these guys' hands and they can tell genuinely that you care what they have done," he said. "The thing is that they look at you like we're heroes and I'm like, it's the complete opposite. You're a hero to me, not the other way around.
"The bottom line is, it really kind of put it into perspective when we got to go [to MacDill Air Force Base] is how many military operations and how many people we have protecting us all over the world. It's really crazy to think, we only talk about a few places of conflict, but it's everywhere. These guys are doing a great job supporting those guys and it's just awesome that we have that kind of presence around the world and we can feel safe at home," he said of the military men and women stationed at MacDill.
"Those guys are the real heroes out there. We just play a sport that entertains people."
Smith's generosity is part of multiple efforts by the Buccaneers in support of the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. This Sunday's game will feature a fighter jet flyover, military moments of recognition, a 200-person enlistment ceremony at halftime and multiple features throughout the game of military personnel in the Tampa Bay area.