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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Michael Sam wants focus put on football

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INDIANAPOLIS — Missouri DE Michael Sam made history once again on Saturday. Less than two weeks after he became the first NFL draft eligible player to publicly reveal he is gay, Sam was believed to be the first NFL draft eligible player to have his scouting combine press conference carried live by CNN.

Interestingly, Sam said that during his interviews with NFL teams this week the subject of his sexual orientation has yet to come up.

“It’s been all football questions,’’ Sam said. “They’ve asked me about my size, have you ever played linebacker, general questions like that.’’

That may come as a surprise to many but Bucs GM Jason Licht isn’t among them. He said Sam’s sexual orientation is not a big concern for most teams.

“The people I’ve talked to, there really is no concern,’’ Licht said. “I think he’s a football player and I don’t foresee any problems. I mean, we look for players that can get through adversity with their mental toughness and he’s a good example of someone who has dealt with adversity and dealt with it well.’’

Sam said he hopes the day will soon come when his sexual orientation is no longer the thing that most define him by.

“I wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player, but it is what it is,’’ Sam said.

Anything you can do I can do better

More than two decades since he retired, James Wilder still holds the Buccaneers all-time records for most rushing yards in a season (1,544) and most rushing yards in a career (5,957).

His son, Plant High and Florida State product James Wilder Jr., believes he can top both marks.

“Oh, definitely,’’ said Wilder, who declared for the NFL Draft following his junior year at FSU. “He was a 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, 230-pound guy, so we have the exact same frame and we have the same running style.

“I also try to use some of the same moves that he had, so you can’t get closer than that. And believe me, if I make more yards than he did, I will definitely let him know about it.

“He’s competitive and he lets me know every day, ‘I was a Pro Bowler, I was this, I was that.’’ He’s not cocky, but he’s just banging it into my head, saying, ‘You can’t ever say anything until you pass me.’’’ But I will definitely pass him.’’

Wilder Jr. ran 226 times for 1,358 yards during his three years at FSU, where he also caught 24 passes for 177 yards. He’s projected to be selected in the later rounds of the draft.

History lesson

Since it first came into existence in 2002, the NFC South has never had a repeat champion. Bucs coach Lovie Smith was somewhat happy to hear of that statistical anomaly.

“Well, hopefully that holds true,’’ Smith said. “That will mean we’ve already eliminated one of the teams. But really, as you look at the league, (that’s because) there are a lot of quick turnarounds now. There really is no such thing as a rebuilding year anymore.

“People want to see immediate improvement and success and I’ll just say that we have a plan in mind for that. We have a philosophy that we’re going to bring in and there is a good foundation there and our plan is of course to go from 4-12 to becoming relevant again and to where it matters again at the end of the season.’’

rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RcummingsTBO

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