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When Lovie Smith looks for Bucs, he looks at Texas

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith on the sidelines in the first half of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday afternoon (09/13/15). DIRK SHADD   |   Times  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith on the sidelines in the first half of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday afternoon (09/13/15). DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Sep. 27, 2015

It is with a particular, almost paternal pride that Lovie Smith smiles, reminded that eight players on his Bucs roster hail from east Texas and get a homecoming of sorts in today's game at Houston.

"People are tired of me talking about being from Texas," said Smith, born and raised in Big Sandy, about 110 miles east of Dallas. "It starts with the emphasis placed on football growing up. A lot of guys from Texas will say football has been such a big part of their life for so long. … It's natural to side with your state and natural to think we play a little bit better football than everybody else. And it's special when you go home to play."

And as much as they're playing the Texans, the Bucs could stake a claim to that nickname, with more players from the Lone Star State than Houston has (five).

"I haven't played in Houston since high school. I'm excited to go home," said receiver Russell Shepard, once the No. 1 recruit in the state. "As a Texas guy, you're always biased toward the state of Texas as having the best high school football, so it's good to have a coach who's from Texas."

Running back Charles Sims is also from Houston and started his college career at Houston. Quarterback Mike Glennon was born just north of Houston in the Woodlands, moving away at an early age. Receiver Mike Evans is from Galveston, less than an hour south of Houston. The first NFL game he attended was a Texans home game.

"It's my dream come true," Evans says of playing so close to home. He warmed up in Houston's NRG Stadium in 2011, redshirting when Texas A&M played a bowl game there.

California — home to nine Bucs — is the only state with more, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a closer group than the Texans, many of whom knew each other before coming to Tampa. Defensive end Jacquies Smith, from Dallas, was claimed off waivers a year ago and said Lovie brought up the connection before they'd talked even a minute.

"(Lovie has) done a great job of scouting the guys from Texas," the defensive end said. "Texas people do stick together a lot. The first thing he said to me when I walked through the door was 'I know you're a Dallas guy.' He talks about Texas a lot."

New Bucs defensive end Josh Martin, born in Houston and signed by the Bucs last week, can take his first snaps in his home state today. He moved to Colorado when he was in the fifth grade and hasn't played in Texas since.

Others have more firmly rooted ties to the state. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane is from Lufkin, two hours north of Houston, and played at Texas A&M.

"I've been geeked up since we beat New Orleans, knowing I'm going home to play," Lane said. "You couldn't ask for a better treat than that. It's one of those bonds where we know what real football is all about, know what to expect from each other."

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