RB Clifton Smith is just the third undrafted player to make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season since 1970
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, 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. With his selection, 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 linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was named to his 11th Pro Bowl in 2008, Smith will travel to Hawaii to represent the Bucs in the league's annual all-star game played the weekend following the Super Bowl.
Smith has been to Hawaii 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 Buccaneers fans. Smith 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. On Friday, with the game still a month away, Smith checked in to talk about his thoughts as the experience drew closer.
The Pro Bowl is a familiar experience for Brooks, so Smith said he'll be leaning on his teammate as he goes through everything for the first time.
"I'll definitely be keeping in good contact with Brooks," Smith said. "He's been there how many times, and he knows exactly what goes on, so I'll just get advice from him being around all these different players and all these great athletes. It'll be a good adventure for me."
Brooks may know the Pro Bowl's week of events like the back of his hand, but Smith is still waiting to see what exactly he'll be involved in. Regardless of how many of the festivities he'll participate in, Smith says he's mainly looking forward to relaxing with his family, who will also make the trip to Hawaii.
"I think we always do the Gridiron Challenge, like where they have these little obstacle courses set up where the NFC goes against the AFC," Smith said. "That always looked like a lot of fun. But actually I haven't heard about any events that we're going to be doing yet, so I'm just going in there blindfolded.
"I'm just looking forward to going out there with my family, hanging out and having fun and enjoying the scenery. I'm looking to go in and try to get away for a little bit and take my mind off everything and just hang out with the family, have fun and let everybody enjoy the time that we have with each other."
Once the game rolls around, however, Smith will be taking the field with some of the NFL's biggest stars, something that isn't lost on the Bucs' young back.
"The anxiety of it is starting to kick in already," Smith said. "I'm just anxious to go out there and have fun and hang out with all these athletes. I was in college last year, so all through high school I was watching them play. So to play in the game, it's going to be an honor just to be out there with those guys."
He may have a hard time keeping his appreciation for the league's long-time stars in check. "There might even be a point during the game where I'm going to call a timeout just to go get Ray Lewis' autograph," Smith joked.
Overall, he will enjoy a relaxing week in beautiful Hawaii with his family and will have the chance to play with and against some of the league's top performers. But that isn't Smith's only goal during the all-star week.
He says the chance to represent the Buccaneers organization and potentially make some new fans are also important.
"It's big for me to go out there and represent the Buccaneers and represent myself and let everybody see that the guy on the practice squad for more than half of the season can actually play the game," Smith said.
The 2009 Pro Bowl is scheduled for the evening of February 8, one week after Super Bowl XLIII is played in Tampa. Be sure to check back with Buccaneers.com throughout the week of the game, as well as afterwards, to read more about Smith's experiences in Hawaii.