Jacksonville Jaguars veteran Joe Zelenka remembers the moment like it was yesterday. Zelenka was entering the San Francisco 49ers lockerroom for the first time in 1999 after signing as an undrafted free agent.
The first two players he noticed in the lockerroom were Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and possibly the greatest receiver in NFL history in Jerry Rice.
"The weird thing is I was playing with them, but I still had their posters in my bedroom at home," Zelenka said. "It was cool."
A similar scene took place Friday as the 18 players that make up the 2008 Jaguars rookie class arrived at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for the first day of their NFL careers.
Following a Thursday evening dinner, the group arrived at the stadium early Friday morning to get fitted for helmets and shoulder pads and go through physicals. The players will sit through position meetings for most of the day before hitting the weight room and field for conditioning work.
"We will begin to play catch-up with them and spend some time meeting with them, and then have them here for our first practice as a football team together on Monday," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars return to the field on Monday after holding two practices last week. The club's minicamp is scheduled for June 6 and 7 and all four practices will be open to the public.
Several veterans on the Jaguars roster talked about their memories from their first day in the NFL and can sympathize with what the rookies are feeling now:
Defensive end Reggie Hayward (Denver Broncos, 2001):** "I was nervous. The first thing I thought was, I'm not going to make it. There was Trevor Pryce, Leon Lett and Chester McGlockton. Everybody was bigger than me. I was 225 pounds and it looked like everyone was way beyond my comprehension. You come in and you don't know what you are dealing with. You don't know anyone on the team. You have to realize these are kids coming on this team and there are some grown people on the team, people with children and families. It's intimidating."
Wide Receiver Jerry Porter (Oakland Raiders, 2000):** My first day I walked in and saw Tim Brown, the Heisman Trophy Award winner. I couldn't believe it. I was too shy to say anything to anybody. I talked to the other rookies but no one else. I just went out there and worked. It took me to at least midway through year two to feel comfortable enough to talk to Tim. It was, 'Yes sir. No sir. Yes, Mr. Brown.' Finally he was like, 'Tim.'"
Linebacker Justin Durant (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2007):** "I just didn't know what to expect. I just kept thinking I am getting ready to meet Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, all these guys I have been watching all the time. I'm actually going to be on the same field with them and we are all going to be working toward a common goal. It was kind of surreal. I had met Mike Walker before because we had the same agent, and had seen Reggie Nelson on a visit to Tampa Bay. I didn't know any of the veterans except for Tony McDaniel. We played in a high school all-star game together. It took a little while. Everybody took me in. It wasn't like they left me out, but it was just me getting adjusted. You just have to relax and be yourself; be confident in what you do. Just because you are coming up to another level doesn't mean you don't have the ability to. It's the same game you have been playing the whole time, but it's just another level. Everybody is good."
Tony Pashos (Baltimore Ravens, 2003):** "I walked in and the guys in the lockerroom were Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Jonathan Ogden and Peter Boulware. They called me 'Rook.' It was weird. You went from watching commercials of Ray Lewis to now he was this guy on your team that didn't know your name. The way a veteran is going to respect you is if you come in and work hard. That is how you earn your wings in any job. I went in and worked hard and slowly they started learning my name. They saw me around a lot. If you're not working hard or worth a thing, no one is going to notice you."
Linebacker Mike Peterson (Indianapolis Colts, 1999): ** "My approach my first day was I have to show them I am worthy to be here. That is all I was trying to do. I just stayed to myself. You don't want to be out there too much, so I didn't go around introducing myself like one of the guys who talks too much. (Biscuit) Cornelius Bennett was my guy. He pulled me to the side and said I was going to be alright and if I had any problems with anybody then come to him. When I got that okay, and Edgerrin (James) and I came in together, so it was alright. I was surrounded by a lot of guys I was familiar with and it made my transition a little easier. Plus, when I went to Indianapolis, there weren't a lot of old veterans. I had played against Peyton Manning in college so I was familiar with him. We didn't have a superstar so I think my situation went a lot smoother than a lot of other guys."
Long snapper Joe Zelenka (San Francisco 49ers, 1999):** "It was a good day. I walked in the San Francisco locker room and the first thing I noticed was everyone was a lot bigger than I thought they would be. Then I saw Steve Young and then I turned and saw Jerry Rice. The weird thing is I was playing with them, but I still had their posters in my bedroom at home. It was cool. I don't think I said anything for the first seven weeks. I don't think I looked at anybody, just kept my head down. I just wanted to prove myself. The best advice I would give a rookie whether you are the first round pick or a free agent, you are pond scum again. I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean it in a good way. You are at the bottom of the totem pole once again. The better and faster they can realize they have to do the small things again, like carry a player's pads in and do a little extra to earn some of the older vet's respect, then the easier it's going to be on them."
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2006):** "They had a picture of me from college up on the white chalk board in the locker room. I had my dreads. I just came in and did my job. There was nothing else I could do. I knew Fred (Taylor) from where I worked out so we were cool. It was no big deal. The best advice is to find a way to fit in. Find your piece of the puzzle and get in there."
Khalif Barnes (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2005):** "The first day I walked in the locker room I was nervous. I knew a couple of guys, Reggie (Williams) and Rich Alexis. I remember going to the set of lockers in the middle and my name was on the top with my jersey and it had 69 on it. I just sat in the locker and looked at all the other jerseys. I looked at all the lockers on the outside where the veterans are and I just thought, 'tomorrow here we go.' It was weird because at first it was just the group of guys I got drafted with. Everything was cool and we were just talking. Then the big guys came in and a few guys just stopped talking. The veterans were just talking and it was like we were new kids at a new school. No one was talking to me so I wasn't talking to anyone else."