TAMPA — Down in Miami, on the edge of the Little Haiti district a couple of miles west of Biscayne Bay, Northwestern Senior High School has long been one of the country’s most noted football factories.
The school has churned out at least one All-Pro or Pro Bowl player each of the past three decades, which is why many alumni refer to it as something other than a high school.
“We call it the University of Northwestern,’’ said Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver prospect Tommy Streeter, a 2008 Northwestern graduate.
The Bucs have been one of the school’s most recent beneficiaries. Linebacker Lavonte David played there with Streeter and cornerback Anthony Gaitor, who is back this summer for a second stint with Tampa Bay.
But if Streeter’s first week of training camp work is any indication of what he can do for the Bucs, then they might want to think about assigning an area scout specifically to Northwestern practices and games.
Originally an also-ran in the race for the third receiver spot behind projected starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, Streeter has quickly emerged as the unquestioned early star of training camp.
“He’s having one of the best camps of any receiver I’ve ever been around,’’ said Bucs quarterback Josh McCown, a 12-year veteran who has worked with NFL star receivers Anquan Bolden, Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall.
“He’s made so many catches that we kind of have this running joke going around about him. It’s like, ‘There he goes again; there’s Streets, making another catch.’ He’s just really doing a good job.’’
You wouldn’t know it from talking to Streeter.
The 6-foot-5, 214-pound receiver, a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in the 2012 draft, has 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Yet, he is as humble as he is tall and fast.
Despite his background, which included a scholarship to the University of Miami and leading the Hurricanes in all receiving categories before entering the NFL draft as a junior, he doesn’t talk a big game.
“You talk to him and he doesn’t want a whole lot of compliments,’’ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s just like, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to do my job, trying to get better very day.’ ’’
He has certainly done that. Whether it’s by out-running a cornerback on a go route or out-leaping a linebacker for a jump ball, Streeter has consistently given Bucs quarterbacks a target they didn’t expect to see.
Not only that, but with his soft hands — he never fumbled during his breakthrough season at Miami — and his improved route running, he’s on the cusp of giving Tampa Bay a pass-catching option it didn’t expect to have.
“When we initially came to camp, he’s wasn’t one of the guys we were talking a lot about,’’ Smith said. “But he’s been pretty steady every day for us and, believe me, we’ve noticed him.’’
It’s hard not to. He stands as tall as Jackson, the steady veteran, and Evans, the first-round rookie. He runs as fast as Chris Owusu and Robert Herron, arguably the team’s fastest wideouts. It’s no wonder then Streeter was initially considered at least by some scouts to be second- or third-round draft.
Streeter still isn’t sure why it took until the sixth-round for a team to finally grab him, or why the Ravens let him go a year later long before the preseason was even over. Maybe it was the broken foot that landed him on injured reserve the year before.
Regardless, Streeter is glad the Bucs decided to take a chance on him by signing him to the practice squad.
“Everything that’s happened, I don’t regret any of it,’’ Streeter said. “I thank God for the rain as well as the sunshine. That’s the attitude that’s kind of made me the guy that I am today.
“A lot of times when you feel like you’re deserving of something and another guy or a coach feels you’re not, it forces you to look in the mirror and evaluate yourself.’’
Streeter can’t help but like what he’s seeing in the mirror now, if only because the Bucs like what they’re seeing on tape. By no stretch, though, does Streeter think he’s achieved his objectives.
After all, there is one goal on his list that stretches all the way back to Northwestern High and the day coach Roland Smith gave him the No. 5 jersey to wear.
“Kenbrell Thompkins, who plays for the Patriots now, he had No. 5 before me and he’s part of the pipeline,’’ Streeter said. “So when he gave me that jersey, my coach made sure I understood what it meant. He said, ‘Son, I’m going to give you No. 5. You might have to do a little history to understand the importance of this number and the guys who wore it before you and what they did.’
“I was a little nervous after that. I was like, ‘Does the No. 5 jersey glow or something? Is everybody watching me?’ Nevertheless, I thrived in that environment. But there’s still a lot more I have to live up to.’’
By Roy Cummings | Tribune Staff
Published: August 1, 2014