NFL First Person: Week One

By Antoine Bethea
Updated: September 9, 2006

NOTE: A year ago, Antoine Bethea was beginning his final season playing at Howard University. On Sunday, the three-time All-MEAC defensive back will be making his first professional start as the Indianapolis Colts visit the Meadowlands to battle the New York Giants in a nationally televised game.

While most of the football world will be focused on the Brothers Manning, BASN will focus on the plight of the ex-Bison standout. Each week, Antoine will give our readers a brief glimpse of the NFL through the eyes of a rookie player. This week, he’ll talk about the ups and downs of training camp and his much-awaited debut.

INDIANAPOLIS — I’m very excited about making my first official NFL start. I got a chance to start in the last preseason game, but the veterans will tell you the preseason is one level, the regular season is another and the playoffs another level.

I had a minor setback early in camp when I sprained my MCL and missed our first preseason game, but I was able to bounce back the next week. Other than that, this has been a good camp for me.

Early on, Coach Dungy had me primarily playing on special teams. Knowing that this was a veteran team, my main objective was to show what I could do on special teams.

Coach Dungy runs a no-nonsense camp. Like I said before, this is a veteran team with a mindset of getting to the Super Bowl. The focus here is putting it all together in the end. We’ve been close in the past, but this year we think the pieces are there.

There wasn’t a lot of rookie “hazing” here either. Now there were little things that we as rookies had to do, but nothing like singing our school song or anything like that. Mostly we’ve had to take the vets out to eat and other similar things.

I think the fact that again, this is a veteran team, so there’s more of a football focus. Now we’ve our fun, but Coach Dungy likes to keep the so-called “hazing” down to a minimum.

COLLEGE VS. PRO The biggest difference for me early on was realizing the speed of the game. You’ve got the big guys who are real fast and it’s an adjustment. You have to be precise with all your steps. Especially on special teams, you have to know exactly what you’re doing at all times.

Here’s the best way I could describe the speed factor. As a college athlete, you could make a misread and probably still make the play. In the NFL, one false step or misread could be the difference in winning or losing a game.

The speed factor is essential. Running backs hit the hole much harder. The lineman and receivers are bigger and stronger. You really have to hone in on all of your skills at this level.

What fans may not know is that much like offense and defense, you have set assignments and plays on special teams as well. While my immediate role was to get the guy with the ball, there are other players will have other responsibilities as well.

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE When you’re a rookie in the NFL, the playing field is like your classroom. Early on, you form a bond with your fellow rookies. Being a defensive back, I’ve been hanging out with guys like T.J. Rushing (seventh round pick from Stanford) and Tim Jennings (second round pick from Georgia).

We hang out with each other on and off the field. Because we’re all rookies we tend to stay together with other and we’ve all gotten close during camp. Some of us first met at the NFL Rookie Symposium.

The symposium was a good experience because it provided us with lots of information and things to look out for as rookies. The days were long, but they helped you with how to deal so many different things on and off the field.

They dealt with financial issues, how your family and friends will approach you and how to handle those situations. It was held before training camp and it was one of the things that helped me greatly in making the transition from college player to pro player.

I”ve been able to keep in good contact with my family as well. I call my mother and brother everyday pretty much. We’re a close family, so it’s been important for me to let them know how things have been going. My folks have already been at both of our home games and they intend to be here for all the home games this year.

The main thing I want to accomplish on Sunday is to play mistake-free football. I want to hit hard and hustle on each and every play when I’m in there. And of course, help the Colts come out with a win.