The interactions between Steven Means and UB head coach Jeff Quinn grew more frequent as UB’s football season continued to spiral downward. The losing streak had hit six games. The Bulls still hadn’t beaten an FBS opponent. Quinn called on his senior leaders, Means perhaps foremost among them, to unite the troops and become catalysts for a turnaround.
“I still save a bunch of our text messages between the two of us,” Quinn said Monday.
Means took his coach’s exhortations to heart. He played UB’s November games with the realization these could be the final four starts of his organized football career. He used his celebrated athleticism and a sustained intensity to become an eye-catching force over the season’s final month.
UB won three of its last four. Means put up the kind of numbers that proved he has the ability to dominate. And the ultimate reward came Saturday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected the defensive end out Grover Cleveland in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Means heads to Tampa Bay on Thursday for rookie training camp along with his freshman roommate and good friend Willie Moseley, a linebacker who signed as an undrafted free agent.
Those final four games might be what elevated Means to something more than UFA status. He produced 41 tackles in the first eight games, 36 in the last four. Eight of his 11 tackles for a loss and four of his 6.5 sacks came during the memorable stretch run. He accepted the challenge put forth by Quinn and defensive line coach Jappy Oliver and found he could sustain the effort that until then had come fleetingly.
“It was a desperation moment,” Means said Monday. “We were going through a losing stretch and I was going through a rough season where I really wasn’t producing much so I started playing like every play’s my last. That year could have definitely been my last playing organized football so I kind of went into it with the approach I want to give it my all. And that’s how I’m going to play at the next level.”
Means said he was 4½ when he joined his first Little League football team. He didn’t see the field much that first season – he was actually underage – but has played a prominent role since. The initial leap in his career took place at Grover Cleveland High School, where he came to appreciate the discipline and commitment the game commands.
“That was the beginning of my maturity,” he said.
He was recruited to UB by the staff of former head coach Turner Gill and as a redshirt freshman drew rave reviews as someone who could not be blocked. His career was a series of fits and starts from there until late this past season.
“Jappy Oliver had a lot to do with it,” Means said. “He’s the best in the business, the very best in the business. He told me what my attributes were. I told me what I could do on the field and he told me to just go out and do and utilize all the God-given ability that I have.”
Tampa Bay might have known more about Means than most teams. One of their scouts, Andre Forde, is a former Bull. What they couldn’t see on film is what Means is like off the field. They grilled Quinn about that.
“They can flip on the film just like I can recruiting a kid,” Quinn said. “But I want to know about that individual. What’s he about? What kind of decision-making does he have? … They asked a ton a questions.
“What was the No. 1 thing you heard about all weekend they talked about? Character, character, character. And I said this is a guy who’s a high character young man, high achiever.”
Means celebrated his selection Saturday by finishing a paper for one of his classes. He arrived at UB loaded with promise and weighing some 220 pounds. He’ll depart a 6-foot-4, 265-pound specimen with a degree in sociology. He’s about to become teammates with another former Harvard Cup player, former Riverside standout wideout Mike Williams.
“I’ll always bleed blue,” Means said. “Now I’m just wearing red and gray.”