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13 J.J. Artis, 28 Je Sandberg, 74 Sean Estrada Credit: Jonathan Meter

When he was in kindergarten, Sean Estrada was just like all the other kids. Now there's one big difference.

The recently-graduated Penn offensive lineman always wanted to play for the San Francisco 49ers, and 17 years later, the Santa Ana, Ca. b native is suiting up for his favorite team.

"It's been my dream to play for the Niners since I was five years old," Estrada said. "It's just amazing."

While at Penn, Estrada was one of the league's top linemen (on a line that allowed only 10 sacks all season), earning a unanimous first-team All-Ivy nod. Playing at both guard and tackle, Estrada was lauded for his intelligence, tenacity and unusual quickness for his size, but his coaches valued his leadership and love of the game.

"He's a guy who has the passion for doing the things that make you good," Penn offensive line coach Jon McLaughlin said. "Everyone enjoys games, but not everyone enjoys practice. Not everyone enjoys the weight room, and watching film, and all those kinds of tedious tasks that go unheralded, but he had a passion for that."

Now, the former co-captain is trying out in the 49ers' minicamp, working to solidify a spot on the team. And while he could not be happier playing in San Francisco, Estrada came there somewhat by chance.

Following the NFL Draft in April, Estrada drew interest from Indianapolis, Houston, Oakland, Dallas and San Francisco.

But it was his favorite squad which was quicker on the draw.

"The Niners were the first ones to invite me to their minicamp, and so obviously I accepted right away," Estrada said. "It was basically a coincidence."

So far, he's been too busy for the reality to sink in.

"It didn't hit me probably until the third practice we had in the minicamp," Estrada said. "I was just sitting there in the huddle with [QB] Alex Smith, [TE] Vernon Davis and [RB] Frank Gore, and I was thinking 'I'm actually playing football with the San Francisco 49ers.'"

Now, Estrada is hoping to make it through training camp and onto the final 53-man roster. With 14 offensive linemen currently on the team, Estrada will have to beat out a few guys in order to be there come September. Typically, teams keep around 10-12 linemen.

One might think an Ivy League athlete would struggle the most with the physical aspect of the game, but that isn't necessarily true for the Penn grad.

"Talking about the plays, you're thrown into an entirely new environment," Estrada said. "I literally came out here the day after graduation.

"It's tough, at Penn I was captain . I was a big fish out there. But then you come out here, and every single person was the best in their class. You feel like you're a freshman all over again."

What makes the transition to the NFL so hard is that Estrada must learn how to play a new position, as his smaller size (6-foot-4 298 pounds at Penn) is best suited to center. But besides having to snap, playing center is a big tactical adjustment.

"At guard you're basically going to be double-teaming someone with the tackle or the center, and you're going to be going after linebackers a lot," Estrada said. "A center has to be able to get that nose guard most of the time, you have to try to handle him.

"Also there's a lot more mental stuff with the center. You have to be able to read defenses, tell everyone where to go, depending on where the tight end is and where the linebackers shift to."

Another obstacle is adding muscle, but so far Estrada has passed that test easily. He had gained 10 pounds of muscle, and has only five to seven pounds more to go to reach the team's goal for him.

Estrada has a long road ahead of him, but has impressed his coaches so far.

They were surprised by his quickness and ability to learn the playbook quickly. But he knows he can never get comfortable.

"A bunch of my old coaches told me 'make sure you get noticed every day, try to make it harder for them to cut you,'" Estrada said. "'Be the first one there, be the last one to leave, make sure you're working your hardest at all times, just try to get noticed by someone every single day.'"

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