The moment Alex Buzbee realized it still was just football, all his anxieties faded.
Sure, the offensive linemen he easily cast aside during his high school days had been replaced by behemoth NFL veterans like Jon Jansen. And yes, the quarterback he had targeted was not a lesser known athlete from Stony Brook or Marist but rather first-round draft pick and NFL starter Jason Campbell.
Still, the helmet and shoulder pads fit the same as before. It was just football again, and Alex Buzbee had always succeeded at football.
The former Georgetown star was one of eight rookies signed by the Washington Redskins to free agent contracts after the team's three-day tryout. The first days of workouts marked the first time the 6-foot-4, 246-pound defensive lineman had not been the physically dominant player on the field.
"It was a little bit humbling," said Buzbee, who was more accustomed to the role of big man on campus. "I was always really confident in how I played all through high school and college. But these guys are big cats. They aren't freaks of nature though — I can usually get a feel for the game after the first play — and when I wasn't stuffed and embarrassed, I knew I was good enough to play in this league."
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and his staff agree — at least for the time being.
While Buzbee, a three-time All-Patriot League performer for the Hoyas, still must survive this month's minicamp and preseason workouts just to earn a spot on the practice squad, the fact he has made it this far is fairly remarkable.
Shortly after his dominant yet disappointing 2-9 senior season ended with a 38-30 loss to Fordham in late November, the Chester, N.J., native made a big decision: He would pursue pro football full-tilt.
That would mean sacrificing nearly everything — the job security that usually accompanies a Georgetown degree, a final semester on campus to hang with the boys and, most importantly, a little bit of his ego.
At Seton Hall Prep, Buzbee was an all-state defensive lineman who doubled as the team's tight end and also played some quarterback. In college, he served as the Hoyas' co-captain his senior year and finished his career ranked third among the school's all-time sacks leaders.
But considering the last Hoyas alum to play professional football was Al Blozis in 1944, Buzbee's past hardly mattered.
Buzbee has labored to achieve his new goal, sweating through grueling, two-hour training sessions with Georgetown strength and conditioning coach Augie Maurelli six times a week to add muscle and improve his quickness.
"You have to give the guy credit," said Maurelli, who believes Buzbee could have been drafted as high as the fifth round had he played at a school known more for football. "At Georgetown, he's immediately at a disadvantage because of staff and poor facilities, and he gave it a shot anyway."
Instead of getting caught up in the excitement of the men's basketball team's Final Four run, Buzbee spent his Saturday mornings in the cramped McDonough Gymnasium weight room. A government major and psychology minor, Buzbee — who graduated with a 3.0 grade-point average — spent draft day writing a term paper in the library and anxiously checking his phone for calls.
"As a high school athlete, every rep of every practice, he played like it was fourth-and-1 in the state championship game," said Eric Gobble, who coached Buzbee at Seton Hall Prep and now serves as coach and athletic director at Trinity Episcopal in Richmond. "Alex didn't know anything but all-out."
Buzbee's cell phone stayed silent throughout draft weekend, but days later Gibbs called with the tryout offer.
With a pool of 64 potential prospects that included 15 defensive linemen from notable football schools around the country, Buzbee remained a long shot. After a whirlwind three days, defensive line coach Greg Blache sidled up to Buzbee and asked whether he wanted the contract.
The awestruck 22-year-old did not hesitate to respond.
"I was like, 'Heck yeah, I would love it,' " Buzbee said with a smile.
But the ecstasy of making the cut soon was replaced by a nervous apprehension with the thought of going up against Jansen and All-Pro Chris Samuels.
"Meeting the veterans is something I was a little anxious about — I just tried to keep quiet and do my own thing," said Buzbee, who now shares an apartment with a few fellow rookies in Ashburn. "Coach [Blache] told me the first day you are going to have good days and you are going to have bad days, and when you have a good day, get off your high horse because the vets will humble you real quick. When you have a bad day, you just have to play through it."
Since then, Buzbee has kept his mouth shut but still manages to get noticed.
"He's caught our eye out here," Gibbs said. "He's very, very quick, and some of the really quick guys have made impacts on football teams because they fit the category of being a pass rusher. That's where we think he has a chance."
Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly, who worked with future pros Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich while at Marshall, says pro coaches have noticed something more than Buzbee's fleet feet.
"One thing that makes Alex stand out is his character," Kelly said. "I think that NFL teams, after Pacman [Jones] and Tank Johnson, like guys with solid character. Alex is the total package."
Sitting in a Georgetown coffee shop recently, Buzbee was told of the praise from his former and current coaches. A young man who had been eavesdropping from a table nearby approached Buzbee and gushed over his accomplishment.
The Redskins' underdog managed only a meek smile.
"I can't help but be pretty proud that I have made it this far, but I am still just a no-name guy," Buzbee said. "Even if this didn't pay off the way it did, it wouldn't have mattered. I had to see if I was capable of playing or not. If I hadn't, I would have regretted it."