With his final practice session behind him, Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson is reflective. He's learned a lot about what his prospective NFL employers are looking for, made several new friends and has had a blast since arriving in Mobile on Sunday.
Next up is the Senior Bowl game itself on Saturday following today’s "meet the players" hospitality session in downtown Mobile. Johnson has made enough friends but now he's looking to set himself up to make some money.
"It’s been something special to receive an invite to play with some of the biggest players from across the country," Johnson told SB Nation on Thursday. "It’s been a good opportunity to show what I can do. I’m just glad to be here. It makes you feel more relaxed when you have some of your peers around.
"At the same time we have to perform and it’s all about business from here on out."
Players from the Southeastern Conference are accustomed to a business-like football environment. The bright lights and high expectations surrounding Saturday's game are far from a novel experience to those who played in the high-stakes SEC -- a huge benefit for SEC players hoping for one more opportunity to shine before the NFL Combine.
Next week's Super Bowl will feature 23 players from SEC schools -- 19 before realignment. That's not a coincidence as players from college football's top conference are indoctrinated with the professional mentality as soon as they set foot on campus.
For a player like Johnson, Saturday represents the first step of chasing his own Super Bowl fantasies.
Like Johnson, Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is already familiar with the pressure of playing under the SEC microscope. For Hamilton, Saturday's game is a chance to prove himself against the best of his tenure. It’s a chance to say he belongs in the NFL.
"This means everything," said Hamilton. "If you get an invite to this thing, you want to take full advantage of it and come out here and enjoy the experience of playing with these guys. You see all of the players here that you see on Saturday featured on TV and they are all top caliber guys. It’s just fun to be out here playing with them."
Hamilton mentioned that he doesn’t want to compare the Senior Bowl to other All-Star bowl games because they all feature players fighting for a job, but added that Saturday will be a special experience nevertheless.
"It’s a big honor," he said. "A lot of big-time guys come through here. A lot of Heisman winners come through here and to be one of the guys to be invited is just a big honor. This is the big event to show off our abilities and I get to compete."