As an undrafted free agent this year, Winston Venable's best hope was to stick with the Chicago Bears long enough during training camp to be noticed by coaches. He accomplished that mission with a strong showing in the team's preseason finale. Yet has he had time to relax and enjoy life in the NFL? Venable tells Bear Report about his experiences so far as a professional athlete:
"Looking back, I'm not sure which was worse, waiting in vain to be picked during draft weekend, or spending the long days leading up to final cuts wondering if I'd be one of the last players to leave the Bears. I guess draft weekend was worse because that didn't turn out the way I'd hoped it would at all.
"I started playing football in eighth grade. That's how long I have hoped to make it to this level. When I first started in the game, I lined up at quarterback. That was in junior high. In high school I switched all around the field. I was a receiver, a safety, you name the position, I've probably played it at one time or another.
"I was fortunate enough to go to Boise State where they have a top-level football program. I learned so much there, but most of all I learned that I would not give up until I had achieved my dream of playing in the NFL. If it had taken me many years to get to this level, I'd probably still be out there trying.
S Winston Venable
"Professional sports sort of runs in our family. My dad was a baseball player and my brother is with the [San Diego] Padres now as an outfielder. I understood growing up the kind of dedication and drive it takes to make it to this level. I was willing to make the necessary sacrifices and put in the time to get here.
"I attended Glendale Community College then I transferred after two years to Boise State. I think that being in a community college first grounded me, then as I went on to Boise State, it expanded my horizons.
"I'm a self-motivated person. Maybe some would say I'm overly motivated. The lock out period was difficult for everyone but I think it hit free agents particularly hard. I made a point mentally of never giving up. I worked hard to stay in condition and when the chance came to go to Chicago, I jumped at it.
"I understood that the odds against me were long. In its history, I don't think the Bears have ever taken on as many free agents as they did this year. Why would this year be any different? But it was. A lot of us made it to the final 53. I'm proud to say that I'm one of them who is still here.
"At 5-11, I'm not a huge guy but I am very competitive. I think my biggest asset is my overall speed. I think I am also able to follow the progression of the play well. I can anticipate where the ball will be going, which is important at this safety position.
"The biggest learning curve for me was the playbook. It's huge and filled with so many details. Because I did come in undrafted, I felt tremendous pressure to produce good things immediately. The only way you're going to be able to do that is to understand everything as quickly as possible. I studied so hard. In fact, I'm still studying. You don't want to go out there and look like a fool.
"The other factor I noticed after joining the team was the physical toll. The schedule we keep can be a killer, particularly in camp. If you don't pace yourself, you're toast.
"I think the mental aspect of the game is equally important to the physical aspect. If you don't feel comfortable and understand what's going on, your speed and skills will suffer. The speed, to me at least, is equivalent to what I experienced in the college game. The players are a little larger here and of course they are extremely skilled, but I have no problems keeping up with the pace of the game. I haven't been nervous at all. In fact, I could hardly wait for the regular season to begin. The bigger the challenge the better.
"I'm aggressive. I like to make the big hits and get the plays. My contribution [this year] will be on special teams. It's great to be out there, running down the field. The fans yell, your adrenaline gets pumped up.
"I've never heard anything like Soldier Field's crowds. Even the difference between the noise level at preseason versus regular season was amazing. You can hardly hear yourself think, but that's a good thing because the fans are behind us all the way. That won't be the case when we're playing New Orleans at the Superdome this weekend.
"Am I relaxing now that I've made the team? No way! If anything the pressure is even greater now. You do your job and you'll be around for another day. You don't do your job and you could be out tomorrow. That would drive some people crazy but I thrive on it. I'm exactly where I had hoped to be and I'm loving every minute."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.