Clay Witt is home, back on his ice living out a dream at the Tampa Bay Lightning's Development Camp.
Witt is the first Floridian and Brandon native to earn a chance to wear a Lightning jersey.
He's here on an invite, just a few year's removed from a time when he was cheering on the team he is now trying to impress.
"Yeah, definitely familiar, but just a different context,” said the 22-year-old player. “I’ve definitely been around the rink a ton. I kind of know everything around here, but it's definitely a different situation."
Clay Witt spent most of his hockey career playing on the Brandon Ice Sports Forum's ice. He only left in high school to better his chances possibly returning here to play for the Lightning. While this is an exciting time for him, he's trying to avoid a lot of attention -- parents included.
"I don't know if my parents are here today,” Witt said. “I kind of want to just be left alone this week."
No friends either?
"I didn't really try to publicize it too much. I just wanted to come out and do my thing."
Witt has one year left at Northeastern University, and as a free agent can be signed by the Lightning before or after his senior year.
While it's been eight years since he left the Sunshine State to compete against stronger competition, he's always worn a reminder of where he's come from on his helmet. The front of his mask resembles a State of Florida license plate with "Witt" across the front of it.
"I've been doing that since about juniors, probably about three or four years,” Witt said. “The past three masks, I've had it on there. Something cool, a little different than most people's helmets."
The Lightning have been around for 22 years. That's how long it's taken for a Floridian to get a shot with the hometown team.
"Florida is a little behind California or Texas as far as developing players,” said Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. “Now you are starting to see kids come out of Florida and go play in college. I think we've had a couple kids out of Florida drafted [just 4]. It's coming."
Witt is hopeful of being the Lightning's first.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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