Morris Claiborne's childhood dreams are playing out just as he planned. Besides being a first-round draft pick and immediately cracking the starting lineup as a rookie, Claiborne is playing for his beloved Dallas Cowboys.
"I was pretty much on the Cowboys' side," Claiborne said when asked whether he grew up rooting for the Saints or Cowboys. "My whole household is Cowboys' fans, so I didn't have a chance not to be. Growing up right down the street from Dallas, I always wanted to play for the Cowboys."
Claiborne's wish was granted when the Cowboys traded up eight spots to acquire the former LSU cornerback with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Claiborne responded with a solid season, recording 55 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
As is the case with most rookies, Claiborne says he struggled at times with the adjustment from college to the NFL.
"It was a big learning process, coming in as a rookie and being asked to start," said Claiborne, who was in Bastrop on Saturday for the Rueben Randle Football Camp. "The long season is a big challenge. I wasn't used to playing that long of a season, coming out of college.
"You have to take care of your body and eat the right foods. You have to do a lot more studying."
As a rookie in the NFL, the transition phase isn't limited to on the field responsibilities.
"When you go to the NFL, it's your job. It's pretty much 9 to 5 except for playing on Sunday and being off on Tuesday," Claiborne said. "You have to be able to adjust on the field and off the field. You have to get used to paying bills and things you're not used to doing."
With a year's experience behind him, Claiborne is expecting to make a bigger impact in 2013.
"I feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident with the first year under my belt," Claiborne said. "I know what to expect, so I can relax and just go play football."
Claiborne's increased confidence level was evident during the Cowboys' recent organized team activities. He is also stronger, having added eight pounds over the offseason.
"His confidence level has grown a lot, kind of reminds me of myself," Cowboys' wide receiver Dez Bryant told www.dallascowboys.com. "My first year, I was shaky-shaky or whatever. That next year I got more confident and I was playing a lot better. Same with him. He's more physical. He's more explosive. He already had the ball skills. He's just adding things to his game that are making him better."
With Monte Kiffin replacing Rob Ryan as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Claiborne is expected to benefit from playing more zone coverage.
Page 2 of 2 - Along with a better season individually, Claiborne is looking for the Cowboys to improve upon last season's 8-8 mark.
"Seeing all the people we had in camp, everybody working together in OTAs and minicamp, I think we're going to be pretty good," the 5-11, 193-pound Claiborne said. "Everything was jelling together."
Claiborne signed with LSU following a stellar athletic career at Shreveport's Fair Park High School. A three-time All-District selection, Claiborne played quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback for the Indians. Starting at quarterback as a senior, he amassed over 2,000 all-purpose yards. He also played basketball and baseball and closed out his high school career by winning the state championship in the 100-meter dash (10.76).
Signed as a wide receiver, Claiborne was soon moved to cornerback at LSU. A two-year starter, Claiborne earned the Jim Thorpe Award and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior after logging 51 tackles with six interceptions, including an 89-yard touchdown return vs. Tennessee. He also returned 22 kickoffs for a 25.1-yard average, highlighted by a 99-yard TD jaunt against West Virginia.
Claiborne will host a youth football camp at Shreveport's Independence Stadium on Saturday.
The Cowboys report for preseason camp on July 19. Claiborne says he will spend his offseason in Shreveport, "Working out and hanging with my family; no vacations."
Claiborne's idea of a dream vacation would be a jet ride to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. Or even better, a trip to New York/New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII.