2013 Top Sports Stories: Former Griffs Making it in the NFL

By Matt Tritten | mtritten@kq2.com

Published 12/23 2013 06:36PM

Updated 12/27 2013 03:56PM

(ST. LOUIS, Mo.) Not many have what it takes to cut it in the National Football League.

"The NFL is not an easy business," St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein said. "It really is a business."

For the first time, three former Missouri Western Griffons are in the league, and are making the most of their time.

"It's just cool seeing that guys I played with are now here in the NFL doing it."

On Sunday Zuerlein's Rams hosted Michael Hill's Buccaneers, and for Hill, it was his first game back in the Show-Me State since graduation at Western.

"It was really good to come back to Missouri where my family and friends, coaches can come back and support me," Hill said.

Despite still being a rookie in the NFL, Tampa Bay is Hill's third stop. The San Diego Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent on April 27th, and the Packers signed him to the practice squad after he was cut. During his time in Green Bay, he was active for two games. Now on the Bucs 53-man roster, he's fighting for playing time.

"It's actually been pretty stressful, crazy just bumping around," Hill said. "This is my third team. It's hard to prove yourself. Right now I'm getting a great opportunity on special teams; a chance to go out there and make plays."

"He's doing a great job of adapting to the NFL, period," fellow Tampa running back and the team's active leading rusher Bobby Rainey said. "He's like one of them natural guys that adapt to the environment and does whatever is asked of him. He's very smart and he's going to be a good running back."

Kicker Greg Zuerlein is thriving in his second year in St. Louis. His 92.5 field goal percentage this season is third best in Rams history. He says he is finding a groove in St. Louis.

"I'm a lot more comfortable knowing what to expect, getting to know the teammates and coaches," Zuerlein said. "Before I was always thinking stuff that I shouldn't be thinking about during games and during practices. I definitely was not in the right mental state a lot of the time."

Zuerlein kicked a career-long 60-yard field goal as a rookie and easily cleared a 54-yarder Sunday, but he may only be scratching the surface.

"A 54-yarder for Greg, that's the equivalent of me swinging my seven iron in golf," St. Louis punter and holder Johnny Hekker said. "It's a nice easy swing, Greg can knock it through. I think before he's done I think he might hit 68, maybe 69 (yard field goal). He'll do it."

"I think I could do that now," Zuerlein said, "but that's just me. It just depends how well I'm hitting the ball that day. If I hit it flush it'll go."

To complete the Missouri Western trio, former All-American David Bass has found a home in Chicago.

Bass has played in 11 of the Bears 15 games, including one start. So far the rookie from St. Louis has a sack and an interception returned for a touchdown to go along with 14 tackles.

The Oakland Raiders originally drafted Bass in the seventh round last April, but he says things like that don't matter much anymore.

"At this point in the season nobody cared if you're undrafted, first round or fifth round," Bass said. "They want to see you produce. And not only saying 'hey, he was a d-end that went in the first round, I'm better than him. I'm going to prove to guys that I'm better than him.' I'm going to work my butt off so I can be the best I can be."

All three Griffs still have a lot to prove as their careers are just beginning, but they're not looking too far down the road.

"One game left, we'll see what happens," Hill said as they enter week 17. "Then it's training in the off-season, and who knows what's next."

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