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Rookie minicamp: A "Wow" Moment


JACKSONVILLE – Now, this was cool. Just really, really cool.

Jeremy Harris can tell you that today. He can tell you that although other stuff runs through a young football player's mind on a weekend such as this – the first weekend of the rest of his NFL life – at the core that young player is a kid.

And as a kid, there's a word that comes to mind more than once this weekend.

"Wow?" Harris said Thursday with a laugh.

Yeah, "Wow." Or, "cool." That works, too.

"Coming in here, getting to see your name up here like that . . . it's definitely a blessing," Harris said, nodding to the name plate above his locker in the Jaguars' state-of-the-art locker room inside EverBank Field.

Harris, a cornerback from New Mexico State, and the other seven players selected by the Jaguars last weekend in the 2013 NFL Draft had that much in common with the 23 free agents in town for rookie minicamp. They shared it with the players here on a workout basis, too.

Some were thrilled with how they arrived. Some experienced frustration in the draft. Others arrived with just a promise and a hope and a dream and a chance to compete.

But for all players, too, there was a moment of realization that this chance – this dream – was at hand, and after dreaming that dream for much of their still-young lives, even the most-experienced, best-known rookies still have a moment on their first NFL weekend when they realize this is special.

"It's great," second-round safety Johnathan Cyprien said late Thursday afternoon. "It feels great to be here. Ever since I've gotten drafted, I couldn't wait to be a Jag. It just feels official right now."

Cyprien, projected by many as a mid-first-round selection, knew throughout the pre-draft process he would be playing somewhere. He knew the moment was coming.

Still, when the moment arrived . . .

"It was a childhood dream," he said. "It's one of the best feelings I've had in my 22 years of living. To have reached so far . . . I know this is just the beginning. I'm just hoping for the best. I know greatness is coming to the whole organization here."

That feeling was real no matter the stature of the player. There was a moment on "Inside the Jaguars: Rookie Premiere" when Denard Robinson saw his locker for the first time. This was a guy who had been a star at Michigan; a megastar, really. Michigan is not a small school. It's big-time and he was big-time there, yet upon seeing his locker for the first time there was a notable "wow factor."

"It's something you dream about and talk about with your friends, but when it really happens, it's definitely like, 'Wow,''' Harris said.

Matt Scott, like Harris and Robinson, felt it. A quarterback from Arizona, Scott expected to be selected in the third or fourth round of the draft. That's what many analysts believed. When that didn't happen, when he slid out of the draft, it was crushing.

It would be a reach to say that feeling washed away Thursday when he arrived at EverBank, but it wouldn't be a reach to say realizing he was here, with an opportunity, put things back in perspective – at least a bit.

"I couldn't stop thinking about what a big deal this was for me," he said. "Coming into college, I really didn't think of coming into the NFL and playing at all. It didn't seem real until I got on that plane (Thursday) and got here."

"Walking in there and seeing my name on the locker, I can't even describe the feeling."

Ace Sanders, a fourth-round selection from South Carolina, said while the initial excitement of being drafted settled a bit in the immediate aftermath, the days leading to arrival in Jacksonville were anxious. Players haven't played football since December or early January, and while they have prepared for the draft, there is an excitement about getting back on the field.

"I just want to get out there and play again," Sanders said.

In addition to the excitement, Sanders said there is reality.

"Now, this is really a job," he said. "You have to be on top of everything. It's not school. You have to work for everything. You've been playing football all your life. It's a dream you're living in. Now, you're getting paid for your dream."

Not every kid who dreams the dream get to feel what Sanders and Scott felt. Most don't get close.

And as for those who did make it here this weekend, not all will make the roster, either. While Head Coach Gus Bradley couldn't be more sincere that every roster spot is open, most of the players who gathered at EverBank Thursday will not be around come mid-September.

On Friday, they will step on an NFL practice field for the first time, another big moment. For some, it will indeed be the first moment of the rest of their lives, or at least their careers. For some, it will be a moment when they realize this NFL dream is a longer shot than they realized.

But all will realize at some point that they are living the dream, at least for a moment, and that however long that moment lasts, it's real. And for them, that's really, really cool.

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