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Bucs' Joe Hawley on his football roots: 'The odds were stacked against me'

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Hawley developed a passion for football when he stepped onto a field for the first time. Now he considers each moment enjoyed in the NFL to be a gift.

The 6-foot-3, 302-pound center, drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round in 2010, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 14. He has started three games this season as veteran Evan Smith recovers from an ankle injury.

Hawley, 26, shared his inspirations and discoveries as part of our weekly Q&A with a member of the Bucs:

When did you know you wanted to play football? "I didn't play until my freshman year in high school [at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, California]. Eighth grade, I wanted to go out. It's a funny story actually. My brother [Jeff] is two years older than me, and he went out to play football, and he hated it. He came home every day, saying to my mom, 'I want to quit.' So really, the odds were stacked against me. I didn't really know why I wanted to go. But as soon as I stepped on the field, I loved it, and I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life."

When did you know football could become a profession? "I think my sophomore year, I really got the hang of it. And my coach was like, 'You can be really good and get a scholarship.' And so that became my goal, to get a scholarship. And then once I got into college [at UNLV], I kept working, and I realized that I could be good enough to make it. I came from a small school, so I've always been an under-the-radar kind of guy, and I've just had to work hard to get where I'm at."

Who's your biggest inspiration in the game? "I liked watching Brett Favre when I was growing up. My dad is from Wisconsin. He's a huge Green Bay fan."

What has been your biggest challenge in the sport? "It's health, probably. The years wear on your body, and being able to take care of your body is important. When I was younger, I could go without taking care of it as much. But now that I've been in it a few years, each year is exponentially worse. You've got to be able to take care of your body."

What's the best advice you've received about being an NFL player? "Just enjoy your time and appreciate it and be grateful, because you never know when it's going to end. And not a lot of people -- maybe top-five percent -- get to retire on their own terms. And everybody else either gets kicked out or is not invited back. So just keep enjoying it, and play your hardest every time you get out there."