Please forgive Tampa Bay Storm wide receiver Joe Hills if he doesn’t sound too excited about a recent tryout he had with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It’s not that Hills isn’t appreciative of the opportunity, it’s more like “it’s just a start,” he said.
Like every player currently plying their trade in the Arena Football League, it is Hills’ dream to one day crack an NFL roster as a full-time member. On Tuesday, he came one step closer to accomplishing that goal, as he caught some passes, ran a few routes, and clocked his speed in some routine speed drills, all while impressing a handful of NFL scouts and Buccaneers personnel on hand.
“Overall I think it went pretty well,” Hills said. “More than anything, I was just glad and just relieved to know that I’m still relevant. I’m still a dot on somebody’s board somewhere.”
The tryout was an overdue return to what once almost was.
Two years ago, Hills earned an NFL tryout with the Tennessee Titans and by all accounts, was one of the more impressive turnouts. Had it not been for a meniscus tear in his right knee on the fourth day of training camp that for all intents and purposes ended any shot he had of making the team, Hills very well might have been included in the team’s future plans.
“That was tough, but if anything it taught me to just keep working hard.”
Through a narrow focus and determination, Hills ultimately took his talents to the AFL, a developmental league, where he broke in with the Spokane Shock and played three games with the team before being acquired by the Storm, with whom he became a star.
In five games with Tampa Bay, Hills stepped up to fill big shoes in the absence of both Prechae Rodriguez and Chandler Williams, reeling in a total of 39 catches for 648 yards and 13 touchdowns.
A good experience, yes, but more importantly, a step-by-step approach to get back to the NFL one day, sooner rather than later.
“A lot of guys don’t even get one workout, so I consider myself pretty lucky,” Hills said. “I look at the whole thing as a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, but little by little, you just keep building, keep working hard, and if I continue to do that, I think it will all work out.”
Hills said he was fairly pleased with his performance at the tryout on Tuesday, but even at that, has no immediate plans of getting comfortable.
Hard work and impressive play at the end of the 2012 season kept him on the radar of scouts. He is neither the first nor the only player from the 2012 roster to get noticed, just the most recent member of the Storm, a fact that is not lost on the front office of the Storm.
“Our aim is to not only get the best players we can on our roster,” said vice president of football operations Jeff Gooch, “we also want to provide our players with opportunities to prove their value and display their talents on the field so that they can get precisely these types of opportunities.”
“I told Derrick [Brooks] that I would continue to get stronger, eat the right things, stay in shape and keep working out, because right now nothing has changed,” Hills said. “Until I get a call back, I’m still going to be a proud member of the Tampa Bay Storm, but like I said, I’m just glad I received a chance.”
If Hills is at least content with the start, he can better believe there is a greater satisfaction waiting for him at the finish line.