There are 19 rookies on the Buccaneers’ 90-man training camp roster, and all of them have the same goal: to be a part of the team come September. For about a month and a half, learning what it will take to be a Buccaneer has been the focus of every rookie in Tampa, from second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks to undrafted free agent Tim Wright.
The Bucs’ three-day mini-camp ended on Thursday, however, and with it the entire offseason program, giving way to one final, long break before the start of training camp. For veteran players, that meant the immediate start of vacation time on Thursday afternoon. For the Buc rookies, however, something else was on tap. For the next week, those young players who have been striving so hard to earn a spot on the roster will now be working to become a part of something else: the Bay area community.
Those 19 players make up what is called the Buccaneers’ Rookie Club, the goal of which is to introduce the newcomers to the people of the Bay area (and, in some cases, Central Florida) and give them a chance to make a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens.
Many of the rookies’ activities over the next week will center on youth groups, as the Buccaneer players look for ways to serve as positive role models for underprivileged boys and girls in the local community. The players are also making an effort to connect with some of the area’s heroes during visits to the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and the nearby MacDill Air Force Base.
The rookies had barely finished their first mandatory NFL mini-camp when they hit the community trail. Head Coach Greg Schiano gave the players a break by taking them to see a movie instead of making them practice on Thursday morning, but by that afternoon the Rookie Club was already at the veterans’ hospital. There they played host to an ice cream social, serving dessert, signing autographs, and greeting patients in the hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Center, before visiting rooms of individuals unable to leave their beds.
Friday saw the Buc rookies hook up with 20 local youths for a visit to Busch Gardens Tampa, where they would engage their new friends from the Boys and Girls Club in an exciting scavenger hunt throughout the park.
After a weekend to rest, the Buccaneer rookies will be back at it over the next four days, taking more kids to such locations as the Pin Chasers bowling alley, GameTime in Ybor City and, on Thursday, the SeaWorld park in Central Florida. They will also visit MacDill on Wednesday to show their appreciation for the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Buccaneers Rookie Club was first formed in 2001. A dozen years later, the tradition continues as the young players learn the importance of finding a productive role not only on the team’s roster, but in the local community as well.