Devin Hester

Devin Hester gets pumped when the jets fly over Soldier Field. His is just one of many "welcome to the NFL" moments on the Bears' lists. (José M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune / December 26, 2010)

Life in the real world ain't the same as childhood. More intensity, more responsibility. Same goes for life in the NFL. RedEye sat down with a slew of Bears and asked them for their "Welcome To the NFL" moment—when they knew, "I'm not in college anymore."

Matt Forte, sixth-year running back

Probably my first padded practice in camp my rookie year. I lined up and had Brian Urlacher across from me, and Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris. Just a lot of Pro Bowl-type people on defense. I was like, "Man, I'm in the NFL now, and I gotta play against these guys." That was probably it.

Earl Bennett, sixth-year wide receiver

My 'Welcome To the NFL' moment was my rookie year playing in [Lucas Oil Stadium]. We played Indy, and it was just loud and crazy. It was a feeling that gave me chills throughout my body.

Joe Anderson, second-year wide receiver

The moment I got [to Chicago] and got off that bus. I came from Texas as a tryout. That was my moment right there. My opportunity I always asked God for, and I went out there and took advantage of it.

As far as actionwise, in a game, my moment was that opening kickoff when I went down and smashed [Green Bay return man Randall] Cobb. The second one was when I caused a fumble against Detroit. That's when I knew it was time to go to work. I'm not just another cat. I'm out here.

Kyle Adams, third-year tight end

I think it was my rookie year, my second preseason game. We're playing the Giants. I was on kickoff return, and the kickoff guy put me on my back. He was a big, strong guy. That's when I knew this was a level up.

Jermon Bushrod, seventh-year offensive lineman

Honestly, just getting out there and practicing. Seeing the physicality and the speed that these guys play with on a daily basis is quite the wakeup call. For me, just going through the motions and fighting to get better, and then realizing that this is quite the step up from [Division] I-AA Towson where I came from. I've just been adjusting as much as I can.

Cory Brandon, third-year offensive lineman

When I was in Tampa with the Buccaneers, I was going against one of the best D-tackles [in practice], Gerald McCoy. I actually played with him in college. Great guy. But he can play, and he just blew right by me on the reach block. I had to redeem myself later on.

Shea McClellin, second-year defensive lineman

First play last year. Training camp. I remember it was just totally different. Pretty sure I got my ass whipped.

Stephen Paea, third-year defensive lineman

It was my rookie year. I was a second-round pick, and they usually keep them around. But when I came in it wasn't like they treated me like a high draft pick. They treated me like a new guy coming to the team, trying to make the team, and I gotta work my butt off. When I got here after the lockout, Rod Marinelli was my defensive line coach. He was just on me. He was being hard on me. And that hit me that I'm here in the league. This is how the league is, and it's not an easy task.

Nate Collins, fourth-year defensive lineman

I was on the Giants. It was my rookie year. I was on the practice squad, and I was late one morning. And [coach Tom] Coughlin told the equipment guys to take all the stuff out of my locker. So when I'm walking into the locker room, I see my locker, and it's empty. And I'm thinking it's over. I already got cut for being late. So I'm walking up to his office with the worst feeling in the world. He was like, "How do you feel right now? Do you feel like I was going to cut you? I want you to feel like that. Because if you're ever late again, that's what's going to happen." I was happy to be fined instead of being cut.

Charles Tillman, 11th-year cornerback

My "Welcome To the NFL" moment was my first preseason game, when I saw my uniform. That was it.

Zack Bowman, sixth-year cornerback

My moment was my first game in the National Football League. We played the Minnesota Vikings. … I had a muffed punt [I recovered] in the end zone for a touchdown, and then we had a few guys on defense go down, and I was in the game. I had an interception. And then I was out for the season. I tore my bicep. For me, it was like, I hate to be out for the year, because I want to keep playing, but it made me realize that I could play in this league.

Sherrick McManis, fourth-year cornerback

I was hurt before the draft, and I wasn't able to do any combine. No 40-[yard dash], no vertical jump, no anything. And God blessed me to get drafted still. Houston drafted me. That year I worked hard to get healthy and I made the team. That was my 'Welcome To the NFL' moment, just making the team and contributing.

Isaiah Frey, second-year cornerback

It was probably last year when I came out to my rookie minicamp and I had messed up on a play. My coach jumped on me about it.

Major Wright, fourth-year safety

Training camp was definitely like a welcome. The first preseason game, you're doing more than what you normally do in college. You're doing special teams, defense – you're doing everything. And not just one quarter. You're doing it all four quarters.

Chris Conte, third-year safety

My first game starting [sixth game of 2011, vs. Minnesota]. My first year, I didn't really expect to come in and start. I thought I would play special teams and maybe get some reps on defense. But to come in and start pretty early my rookie year was like, "Oh wow, I'm in this thing. Here we go."

Anthony Walters, third-year safety

My fourth preseason game my rookie year. You hear about it from some of the veterans, but you never really understand what will take place that game, the amount of reps you'll get on defense and special teams. You virtually play on all the special teams, and you're playing on defense. That was probably the most tired I've ever been in my life playing football.

Robbie Gould, ninth-year kicker

My 'Welcome To the NFL' moment came in our playoff game against Seattle my second year. I was still trying to find my way. Still trying to understand how to kick in Soldier Field. Worrying about how to figure out the winds and how to prepare myself for the 20 week-plus season. I think hitting that field goal gave me the confidence to say, "Hey, you belong here. Just keep working hard and you're going to get a lot of these kicks."

Adam Podlesh, seventh-year punter

My 'Welcome To the NFL' moment was the opening kickoff of the first game I ever played. I don't kick off, but I kicked that one off. Our placekicker got hurt against Tennessee when I was playing in Jacksonville. Josh Scobee got hurt in pregame, so I had to kick off the whole game. The last time I had kicked off was probably my second year in college.

Devin Hester, eighth-year kick returner

Probably the first [regular season] game of my rookie year. The welcome moment was when the jets flew over my head. It was a new feeling. It's what the NFL is all about. A real football player will tell you that those jets mean something. I don't know what it is. It gives you chills from your pinky toenail to the last hair on your head. When those jets fly over your head, you know it's football time.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack

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