Matt Grothe threw 1,148 passes for the University of South Florida, the last of which came against Charleston Southern at Raymond James Stadium last September.
If Grothe is to follow his stellar collegiate career with one in the professional ranks, it will start about a mile away from that final toss for the Bulls. The Big East's all-time leader in total offense is one of 46 rookies and first-year players who will participate in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie mini-camp on tryout contracts this weekend.
Tampa Bay's first mini-camp after the draft is for newcomers only - rookies and players who have not yet gathered an accrued NFL season. The team has about 29 young men who fall into this category; the 46 tryout players both fill out the rest of the roster so that full practices can be held and get a legitimate shot at securing a more lasting stay with the team.
Last year, for instance, tackle Demar Dotson, guard Marc Dile and running back Kareem Huggins all came to Tampa as tryout players and eventually won not only an invite to training camp but a spot on the 53-man roster for at least part of the 2009 regular season. Dile, like Grothe, was a former USF standout turning to the hometown team to get his foot in the NFL door.
Grothe is one of two USF products to come to Bucs camp this year, joining Bulls teammate defensive end Aaron Harris. The tryout ranks also include hopefuls from such in-state schools as Florida A&M (LB Bryan Parker), Florida Atlantic (WR Chris Bonner, T Carl Spitale and T Lavoris Williams), Florida State (TE Caz Piurowski) and Central Florida (C Ian Bustillo).
The Bucs cast the net much wider than Florida to attract tryout players this year, however. Participants came from as far as Arizona State (LB Mike Nixon), Hofstra (FB Phil Riley), Iowa State (CB Kennard Banks) and Northern Colorado (CB Quincy Wofford).
Here is a complete list of the players who will participate in Tampa Bay's 2010 rookie mini-camp on tryout contracts:
Fort Hays State
Central Connecticut State
Fort Hays State
As usual, there are several intriguing stories among this large group of players, beyond Lakeland's own Grothe trying to go from high school to college to the pros all in the Bay area.
For instance, Brandon Parks of Kent State will try to follow in Dotson's footsteps and make the move from college basketball to football in the NFL. Unlike Dotson, who at least played one season on the gridiron at Southern Miss after spending most of his college career on the hardwood, Parks has not played organized football since his high school days in Bunker Hill, Indiana. In this way, Parks might more directly follow in the path of star NFL tight end Antonio Gates, who also played basketball at Kent State before convincing the Chargers he could make it in another sport.
Forget the back stories, though. The tale each one of these 46 men would like to tell is more like the one Clifton Smith has lived since coming to Tampa on a tryout contract in 2008. Smith signed with the team two days after the end of the '08 rookie mini-camp, in which he impressed with his speed and quickness, and went to training camp in Orlando that summer. Though he began the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, he was eventually activated to the 53-man roster and handed the kick and punt return jobs. Four months later, he was playing in the Pro Bowl as the NFC's lone return man. Smith is now a key part of the Bucs' core of talent and clearly one of the best returners in the NFL.
Could the next Smith be somewhere in the group above? The next three days at One Buccaneer Place may uncover the answer.
Three More Signed
The Buccaneers have also signed three more undrafted free agents, adding to the 12 the team announced on Monday. The latest rookie signees are Oregon State wide receiver Damola Adeniji, Texas A&M linebacker M.J. Featherston and Florida A&M tackle Rob Okeafor.
Those three will also participate in this week's camp, bringing the total number of participants to 74. In addition to the 46 tryout players, nine 2010 draft picks and 15 undrafted free agents, the Bucs also have four first-year holdovers from the 2009 roster who will take part in the camp: safety Emanuel Cook, defensive end Maurice Evans, tight end Ryan Purvis and linebacker Lee Robinson.