June 2, 2008
For Kevin Smith and Josh Sitton, teammates at UCF for three years and now rookies embarking on careers in the National Football League, their first mini-camps quickly proved that the level of play in the professional ranks is at a much-higher plateau than any competition the duo faced as Knights.
Sitton, a fourth-round selection by the Green Bay Packers, arrived in the frozen tundra and his first impression was everybody is talented and that was just the rookies who were at team headquarters for a three-practice introduction to one of the most-storied teams in the NFL.
"It was such a huge jump in competition," Sitton said. "Everybody was good and it was real competitive."
Smith also noticed right away the biggest difference was the caliber of competition. The third-round pick of the Detroit Lions was surrounded by more than just rookies during his first weekend as a professional and the realization that he is now fighting to keep a paycheck set in real fast. "It was a different atmosphere and a different level of competition," Smith said. "It was a job. You are not on scholarship anymore, so you have to wake up every morning and go earn your paycheck."
By most accounts, Smith and Sitton were impressive during their introductory sessions as professionals, but the long road to see time in between the white lines next season and cement a roster spot really begins when both players arrive in their respective cities for training camp in late July.
Sitton was able to get more of a feel for his new city over his first weekend as he was in the heart of Green Bay, while Smith was on the outskirts of Detroit at the Lions' training facility. The difference in population is noticeable as just over 900,000 people call Michigan's largest city home, while a shade over 100,000 cheese heads claim residence in Green Bay.
Sitton has already had a taste of how passionate Packers fans can be as well. "I already got fan mail since I have been back," he said. "You have fans coming up to you knowing who we were already. I signed a throw-up bag on the airplane on the ride home. Those Packers fans are crazy." The pair of All-Conference USA first team performers from a year ago will take the momentum of coming from a championship team and setting numerous offensive records at UCF along the way with them to Green Bay and Detroit.
It will be unique for both players as Sitton, for the first time in three seasons, will be opening holes for a different running back, while Smith will be trying to gain yardage to the right side of the field without the assistance of one of only two players in UCF history to appear in 50 career games.
When September rolls again and the 2008 season begins, both players will undoubtedly be pulling for each other except for two weeks out of the season when the Lions and Packers clash on the gridiron. With both teams in the NFL North Division, Sitton and Smith will see plenty of each other throughout their pro careers and that suits both players just fine.
"It is pretty cool to think about," Smith said. "I hope Josh plays well, but hopefully we win and I have more yards than their running back."
- Ryan Powell
This story appears in the May edition of KnightVision. Produced 10 times per year, KnightVision is the official publication of UCF Athletics. Each issue includes stories about UCF teams, student-athletes and coaches. To order 10 exciting issues from August through June, call 1-888-877-4373 (ext. 121) or 336-768-3400 (ext. 121).