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Cincinnati kids grateful for unique Packers debuts

Sean Clifford and Carrington Valentine will start their pro careers where it all began

QB Sean Clifford, CB Carrington Valentine
QB Sean Clifford, CB Carrington Valentine

CINCINNATI – Practicing in the shadow of Paycor Stadium, Sean Clifford and Carrington Valentine each took a couple minutes after Wednesday's joint practice with the Bengals to appreciate the journey football has taken them on.

Both natives of Cincinnati, the pair of Packers rookies spent their childhood cheering on the Bengals. In fact, Clifford still has some Carson Palmer memorabilia hanging in his childhood bedroom.

Now in the infancy of their own NFL careers, Clifford and Valentine practiced for more than two hours Wednesday against the team they idolized as children. What's more, they'll play their first NFL game this Friday in the stadium that helped them fall in love with the sport.

"It's been great being home," Clifford said. "Some people came out to support me in the practice. I'll have a bunch of people in the stands wearing some Clifford gear. It'll be a lot of fun. It's just a great opportunity to do what I love and keep pursuing this dream with such a great organization. It really is an honor."

Valentine, a seventh-round pick this past April, has been one of the Packers' biggest risers throughout the offseason. In fact, Valentine took virtually all the No. 1 defensive reps with All-Pro Jaire Alexander not participating in team periods in Cincinnati.

While Joe Burrow wasn't practicing due to a calf injury, Valentine took some big reps against one of the league's top receiving units, headlined by former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

Like Valentine has done all summer, the rookie proved up to the task. He recorded two pass breakups during a red-zone period and contributed to the Packers' defense winning the final two-minute drill at the end of practice.

Best of all, Valentine's parents and immediate family were there to witness it.

"It's surreal," Valentine said. "Getting drafted to Green Bay and hearing your first preseason game is going to be back where you spent all your life at and built those connections, I couldn't really believe it.

"Hearing that you get to come out here and practice down here, when you used to come to games as a kid – being out here, taking in the environment, it's a blessing."

One of Clifford's favorite memories was when his parents surprised him and little brother Liam with Bengals season tickets during Sean's senior year at St. Xavier High School.

Four years his brother's senior, Sean felt he grew closer to Liam during that time. He now considers his younger brother, currently a sophomore receiver at Clifford's alma mater of Penn State, his best friend.

"I really credit those moments to that time that we had together," Clifford said. "It's really special to be back and be able to play the team that I grew up watching so closely. Absolutely, it truly is a blessing and I'm really excited and ready to take it all in on Friday."

This entire week has brought on a wave of nostalgia for Clifford, beginning with the team dinner after arriving in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening. The Packers had a team-bonding event at Jeff Ruby's steakhouse, whose owner and namesake happens to be family friends with the Cliffords.

On Wednesday, with his family behind him and loud cheers from locals in honor of his homecoming, Clifford went back to work on the practice field with the Packers' No. 2 offense. The fifth-round pick made one of the day's best plays on a TD connection with Bo Melton in red zone.

While it's sounding more and more like Jordan Love could get some work in Friday's preseason game against Cincinnati, Clifford and backup quarterback Alex McGough also should see snaps against the Bengals.

As the Packers look to identify Love's primary backup this season, the only two-time team captain for the St. Xavier Bombers hopes to leave his hometown with momentum.

"You know they're not going to bring a ton of exotics (scheme-wise). They're not going to show their hand a ton," Clifford said. "It'll be a little bit more vanilla ice cream but at the same time, you gotta be prepared for all the looks and be ready because it is a game and a lot of guys are fighting for jobs, as I am. Being able to come out there and put on your best show is very important."

The same goes for Valentine, who has become like a little brother to veteran Rasul Douglas and the rest of the Packers' returning cornerbacks.

Although unlikely he'll see much of Chase or any of the Bengals' established receivers on Friday, Valentine is grateful for the experience to test himself against the game's best in his hometown.

"He's their guy and their star," said Valentine of Chase. "Going out against that veteran talent – if you make the plays, you'll see where I am against someone who's had success in the NFL."

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