TAMPA — Brandon Magee has been a Bucs linebacker for about two weeks, but six years ago he saw a future for himself as a pro athlete in Tampa Bay.
In summer 2008, the Rays took him in the baseball draft out of Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School in the 29th round, and he told them he would sign. A Rays scout got to his house at 12:30 one afternoon and stayed until after 1 a.m., trying to get his signature on a tempting contract.
"Seventeen years old, seeing that many zeros, that's pretty exciting," said Magee, who ultimately chose to take a football scholarship to Arizona State. "I just didn't feel right signing. I felt like I needed to go to college."
Magee, 5 feet 11 and 225 pounds, played football and baseball for the Sun Devils. He piled up 231 tackles — 24.5 for losses — as a weakside linebacker and twice went to the College World Series as a backup outfielder. And though he totaled just two hits in his college baseball career, he was drafted by the A's in 2011, then the Red Sox in 2012, and he signed with Boston, maintaining his football eligibility for a final season while committing to dabble in pro baseball.
Magee has corresponded with Bo Jackson, perhaps the best-known dual-sport star for his pro football and baseball careers in the 1980s and '90s, and understands the challenge of playing both. Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison, who also attended Arizona State and calls Tempe home, remembers Magee well and followed his career in college.
"If there's somebody that has the makeup to do it, he's probably that kind of guy," Harrison said. "Not only is he a good athlete, but he's a really good person."
Though Magee wasn't picked in the 2013 NFL draft, he landed a $70,000 signing bonus from the Cowboys — more than any seventh-round draft pick got — only to be among the final preseason cuts. He landed with the Browns, played in eight games and had five tackles before he tore a pectoral muscle with a month left in the season.
He spent last spring in Fort Myers, working for more than two months at the Red Sox's extended spring training as an outfielder even when his injury kept him from hitting early. He reported to the Browns for offseason work but was waived last month with a new coaching staff making changes.
Magee, just coming to grips with getting cut, was home watching TV with his mother when he found out he'd been claimed by the Bucs. Excited by a fresh start, he is happy to put baseball on the back burner while he works to impress Bucs coaches in the next month, trying to make the team as a fifth or sixth linebacker.
"Right now I'm 100 percent focused on football," said Magee, who had an interception early in camp and a physical tackle of running back Mike James this week in full-contact drills.
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Bucs linebacker Mason Foster, a Pac-12 rival of Magee's when he played at Washington, said Magee is showing the same skill in practice during camp.
"I've loved his game since college," Foster said. "He's making a bunch of plays out there. He's a real quick, real aggressive linebacker, plays sideline to sideline. He's a smart dude, always asking questions and trying to get better. I can't wait to see him play. Whatever he's doing, he's always 100 miles per hour."
Backup linebackers make or miss a roster largely based on special teams. Magee will have a chance to show himself starting with Friday's preseason opener at Jacksonville, where he also could get time on defense in the second half after established players go to the bench.
"I've seen an athletic linebacker that can play in space," coach Lovie Smith said. "Most people would say (Magee is) a little undersized, not quite 6 feet tall, exactly what we play with at the linebacker position. He'll hit you. Smart, intelligent football player. I've been impressed with him. Another one of those guys we want to see play because he's done everything we've asked him to do out there."
The Bucs have four veteran linebackers: Foster, Lavonte David, Jonathan Casillas and Dane Fletcher. The remaining linebacker jobs — likely two — are wide open, and Magee has more tackles than any of the other young players battling for a spot on the 53-man roster. He's excited about his football future, with the right mentality for the position battles ahead.
"I have to go full speed on every play. I have to stand out amongst the rest of them," Magee said. "We have great linebackers here, athletic, fast, smart in the film room. Everybody's competing right now.
"I'm really excited. I'm loving this city, loving the coaches, the players. The atmosphere is great; the fans are great. I'm loving it."