TAMPA — It's understandable that cornerback Mark Myers, the newest player on the Bucs roster, would be impressed by the team's practice fields at One Buc Place, with Raymond James Stadium looming in the distance.
The last time he joined a football team, it didn't have a stadium, didn't have a field, and wouldn't play its first game for a full year.
"I came in excited, came in ready," he said of rookie minicamp with the Bucs. "I was just grateful to be there, so I gave it all that I had. Thankfully, they saw what they needed to see."
One of two tryout players signed to contracts Sunday out of rookie minicamp, Myers has come a long way from five years ago, when he signed with Southeastern University in Lakeland, which was building an NAIA college football program from scratch.
His first year, more than 100 players practiced, all redshirting and knowing their first game wouldn't be until 2014. They often worked out on the open, unlined grassy fields at Lake Bonny Park, not far from campus, or sometimes at a nearby middle school. Last fall, only 11 of them had stuck around to be fifth-year seniors, and of those, only Myers has gotten a shot at the NFL.
"Being able to represent the whole Bonny Park class is what motivates me," said Myers, a bit undersized at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. "There's a lot of guys who were talented, who came in with me, and I want to make sure that lives on."
Southeastern had another player, receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, sign with the Rams last week as the program's first, but he joined the team last year after stints at Texas A&M and Kansas. Myers is the first home-grown Southeastern player to reach the NFL, even on an offseason contract.
Southeastern — its mascot is the Fire, its enrollment about 7,000 — was the only school to offer Myers a scholarship. The idea of having a year to prepare for college football was a plus for him, a chance to improve himself without the pressure of games every week.
"I didn't even know if I would keep playing football after high school," said Myers, 23, who didn't play his senior year in high school, ineligible after he transferred late from Orlando Edgewater to Oak Ridge. "It was a good situation for me, and only 45 minutes from my home."
Myers gave credit to Bucs scouting assistant Josh Hinch, who saw him as his pro day and said he'd do his part to lobby coaches to give him a look at rookie minicamp, a shot to prove himself against major-college prospects and even Bucs draft picks.
Myers, who graduated with a degree in management information, may be able to help the Bucs on punt returns, as he had a 70-yard touchdown on one against Ave Maria, and a 64-yard score against Webber International in 2015, adding a 73-yard pick-six against Webber last year, one of nine interceptions he had in college.
Myers said he liked the way Dirk Koetter took time to talk with him during the three-day minicamp, asking about his background and telling him to make sure he sat up front in meetings. He remains a long shot to make the Bucs' final roster this fall, but Sunday's news was a major first step, for Myers and for Southeastern as well.
"I want to say thank you to the GM, the head coach, everybody in the Tampa Bay organization," Myers said. "Especially a big shoutout to the head coach. He's really an open type of guy, and the environment is real, real loving in Tampa."