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Colby Way grew up in State College, Pa. So when the senior defensive end got a call from Joe Paterno, it would seem a foregone conclusion that he’d commit to become a Nittany Lion.

Way chose the University at Buffalo.

“When I came up here on my visit, this place just felt right,” Way said after training camp practice Monday. “It really felt like a family.

“When I was here on my visit, it wasn’t like, ‘Stay away from this guy because you’re going to be fighting for his position,’ or something. It was like, ‘Come meet this guy. He’s going to want to help you out, bring you along.’ So that’s really what brought me here.”

The Bulls are thankful he chose Buffalo, because Way has blossomed into one of the finest defensive players in the Mid-American Conference. Though he may be relatively unknown to some because he plays in the shadow of all-everything linebacker Khalil Mack, Way made Phil Steele’s first-team All-MAC preseason team.

The 6-foot-4, 293-pounder started all 12 games last year and finished fifth on the team in tackles (58) and second in sacks (seven). He also scooped up a fumble, returned an interception 22 yards and had 10.5 tackles for loss.

Perhaps most notable, however, is Way’s intellectual prowess. He has been an All-MAC Academic Team selection the last two years.

Way has a 3.5 GPA. In computer engineering.

“It’s really just time management,” Way said. “The tutors help you out a lot. Something that helps me is the fact that I’m actually interested in the classes I’m taking. That’s why I chose computer engineering, because I’m really interested in what I’m doing.”

Way gets quite a reaction from people when they find out his academic success.

“People seem really surprised,” he said. “I think that’s because of the stigma football has always carried for academics.”

Way is hoping to land a job in computer engineering out of college, and he’ll go to grad school if that doesn’t happen. Then again, the NFL could come calling.

NFLdraftscout.com has Way ranked 18th out of 252 defense ends.

“The thing that I’ve seen all along from Colby is just his maturity level,” head coach Jeff Quinn said. “He takes a great deal of pride in his performance, his understanding of the game. He prepares extremely hard. Very knowledgeable football player.”

Way was one of the seniors who helped lead summer practices, in which coaches are not permitted to participate.

“He reaches out to all the players at his position and really on the entire defense, and it spills over into our entire team,” Quinn said. “He’s a guy who is a very competent, conscious young man who brings others along.”

Way will be called on for a lot more leadership this year given the departure of defensive end Steven Means, who is in the training camp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I want to be the type of player that Steve really was,” Way said. “He’s big shoes to fill with how scary he was coming off the edges. Tackles feared him just like they fear Khalil.”

Way, who has grown long, blond hair this summer and sports a thick training-camp beard, gained 45 pounds between his freshman and sophomore years. He frequented the dining halls in his dormitory, especially the all-you-can-eat meals at breakfast and dinner.

That body-mass increase led to huge improvements on the field. Way finished second on the team in sacks (three) and first among defensive linemen in tackles (49) as a sophomore after recording just nine tackles as a freshman.

“He represents our program in a social context with great class and distinction,” Quinn said. “He’s a great young man. He’s another-centered person. He’s physically and skill-wise one of our best, and he’s got a great attitude. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood – other than on the field when he’s playing.”

Football does not define Colby Way. In fact, he didn’t enjoy watching sports as a kid.

“I’ve always been interested in fixing things, and how things work has always really intrigued me,” Way said. “That’s what led me to computers.”

The defensive line will have a new look this year, without the graduated Means and Wyatt Cahill. Way’s primary line mates figure to be senior Beau Bachtelle and junior Kristjan Sokoli.

The Bulls will play in State College in 2015, the year after Way will graduate, and though he wishes he could play in front of his family and friends in that game, he said taking on Ohio State (UB’s season opener, Aug. 31) is the next-best thing.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com