Heading into the 2003 NFL Draft, Tommy Collins was told by prognosticators that he would get picked up somewhere in the middle rounds.
Instead he watched both days of the draft unfold without hearing his name called, or even appear across the ticker. Days later, he signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers and started his quest to make an NFL roster the hard way: as an undrafted free agent.
The odds are against him, but Collins' goal is hardly unattainable. Just last season the Packers had three undrafted free agents make the opening day 53-man roster: Kevin Barry, Tony Fisher and Marcus Wilkins. By the end of the year, Erwin Swiney also had seen action.
Helping his cause, Collins comes to training camp with something every football team needs: versatility.
At the University of Connecticut, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound Collins played his first three seasons at fullback, which is his primary position on the Packers roster. But as a senior Collins started 16 games at tight end, making 39 receptions along with six touchdowns.
If Collins can provide depth at two offensive positions and be a contributor on special teams -- a must for any rookie -- he might find himself wearing a green and gold jersey when the regular season kicks off September 7.
Collins has only a short while to prove himself, but he'll let Packers fans follow his experience in the form of a Training Camp Diary. In this opening installment, Collins discusses what it's like to arrive at training camp, start practices and feel the love of Packers fans.
Tommy Collins: From the moment you get here, you just realize how professional this organization is. From how they set everything up for you at the dorm, to the way they run the whole operation of training camp, it's just a million miles away from college.
I couldn't think of a better place to be. But it's a big transition. When you look at the speed of the game and you come in and practice here, it humbles you to be on the field with so many great players.
On the night before practices started I was eager and ready to go. Since draft time all the way up until now, I've just been waiting.
In mini-camps you get some of the kinks out and everything like that, but there's nothing like getting the pads on and finally hitting. That just started a few days ago and I think everyone is pretty much broken-in now and camp is on its way.
Seeing all fans out here watching practice is just incredible. We thought there was a good number of people out here for mini-camp, but when training camp rolls around it's just amazing. You're swarmed going to and from practice and it's awesome to see a town support its team like this.
I think it really helps a lot. If you're out here practicing, you're not only feeding off your teammates' energy, you're feeding off of everybody here.
One of the veterans was telling me just to wait until Saturday to see how many people are out here when people actually have time off work. To have all these people out here on any given day, giving their support, looking for autographs, it's just a neat feeling. It hypes you up a lot to have that much support behind you.
Obviously there's a lot of competition among rookies, so the first days of training camp were competitive, but when the veterans come in they show you how it's really done.
This is probably not just one of the best organizations in the league, but the best. It's just amazing to be able to play around guys like Bubba Franks and Brett Favre and Mike McKenzie, and so many other guys like that. It's just awesome.
Of course training camp is tough, and I'm fatigued, but you have to keep in mind that that's what camp is for. It's not only a chance for the team to see how well you're doing, but to see yourself and get a feeling for where you stand.
After a few days of practice, I don't think my fatigue right now is any more than anybody else's. I actually feel pretty good. The soreness is there, but that will work itself out.
So far, for the beginning of training camp, I would give myself a grade of a B or B-plus. I wouldn't say I'm out of my element or anything. I feel like I definitely belong here and feel I can contribute to this organization.
Making this team is about not playing like a rookie anymore. That's a transition we all have to make, from Nick Barnett all the way down to a guy like me. We have to make that transition from not playing like a rookie anymore to filling a role that will get us on the 53-man roster and help this team get to the Super Bowl.