Thrust into game, Bucs' Gottschalk makes most of NFL debut
Six weeks ago, two of Ben Gottschalk's best friends and former roommates and teammates at SMU had booked flights to Tampa to catch the Bucs' home game against the Bears, even though Gottschalk was only on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
But last week was a wild one, as two injuries to offensive linemen led to his being promoted to the Bucs' active roster on Saturday, then another injury just six plays into the game thrust the 24-year-old into the game as the center, playing the final 69 snaps in a 36-10 win over the Bears.
"I knew going into this week when (center) Joe (Hawley) got injured last week there was a chance I had to play. So I had to treat this week like I was going to play," said Gottschalk, who spent extra time with Hawley and Evan Smith, the team's usual starting and backup centers. "Those guys really helped me out."
Gottschalk had much of the last three years trying to get a break to crack an NFL roster -- in 2014, he went to camp with the Chiefs, but only lasted eight days on their practice squad. He was signed by the Bucs but cut in May 2015, then went to camp with the 49ers only to miss their cuts. He finished last season on the Bucs' practice squad and spent the first 10 weeks of this season there as well before getting his promotion for the Bears game.
"It's been a long time coming," Gottschalk said. "It's taken a lot of work to get to this point and feels really good. Gratifying, absolutely. You kind of get thrown into it before you really have time to react. There were a couple of plays I wish I could get back, but I played OK."
His friends, with incredible timing, were on hand to witness his NFL debut, as part of the Bucs' first home win of the season. And until Smith and Hawley are back healthy at least, Gottschalk will be counted on for a key role moving forward.
"It's been a hell of a day, to say the least," he said.