Jimmy Gaines knows the odds are stacked against him.
But the Getzville native and Canisius High School product is determined to make the most of his opportunity with the Buffalo Bills.
Gaines is one of nine rookie undrafted free agents who have signed or agreed to terms with the Bills ahead of the team’s rookie minicamp this weekend.
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing being back home and being well-received from people back home – from my high school teammates and everybody just excited for me to be here,” Gaines said Tuesday at One Bills Drive, where he spoke with Western New York reporters.
Gaines signed with the Bills after a four-year career at Miami (Fla.). With the Hurricanes, he started 27 games and appeared in 41 games, registering 199 tackles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions in his career. As a senior in 2013, he started all 13 games at middle linebacker, making 83 tackles.
“I was told I would go late rounds or be a free agent, so I wasn’t surprised by the fact that I was a free agent,” Gaines said. “The Bills, I really wasn’t expecting it honestly because I wasn’t really in contact with the Bills. When they called I felt like this was the best decision for me. This was the best choice.”
The opportunity to come home is an obvious selling point, but Gaines said the defensive scheme the Bills run is another reason he chose Buffalo. “The linebacker situation that we have here, I have the ability to compete for a job,” he said.
Gaines landed at Miami after originally committing to play at the University at Buffalo. He decommitted after Turner Gill left, and some bigger programs then came calling.
“Nothing came easy for Jimmy. When he got the opportunity at Miami, he was not a five-star recruit,” said Canisius coach Rich Robbins. “He was the only guy from New York State on Miami’s roster and anybody that I’ve talked to down there, they love the kid.”
Robbins explained what the Bills were getting in his favorite Gaines story.
“We’re playing a team in Ohio, and they’re kicking our butt. This is back in the day. We weren’t very competitive like we are now with Ohio teams,” Robbins said. “Jimmy was in there and he got his hand caught in a kid’s helmet. He ripped the webbing of his hand between his ring and his middle finger.
“He ripped his hand open and he was gushing blood. He’s bleeding all over the place and nobody notices it. The kid stays in the game. Finally the referee saw all the blood and got him out of the game. I’ll never forget an Ohio referee saying ‘that’s the toughest kid I’ve ever seen.’ Work ethic, toughness, leadership … that’s what Jimmy brings.”
The Bills last year got big contributions from cornerback Nickell Robey. Gaines said he’ll lean on him for advice on making the final roster.
“It just shows his work ethic,” Gaines said of Robey. “With the odds stacked against him, he was able to overcome them and have a great rookie season. … I’m excited to talk to him.”
Gaines, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, won the Hurricanes’ strength training athlete of the year award in 2013 – a good sign of his commitment.
“His work ethic and his leadership in our program in the decade I’ve been there are second to none,” Robbins said. “We’ve had some real good players over the years, but not even John Urschel was the leader that Jimmy was. He was the unquestioned leader of our team. In his senior year at Canisius, we only had six seniors on the team, and he put the team on his back and led us to a championship.”
Gaines was named to the All-Western New York first team in 2009 after finishing with 154 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“We talk about it still. My whole staff – we had a bit of a meeting a little while ago – and we were looking at that picture of him up on the podium today with the Bills sweatshirt on, and it was just such an awesome moment for all of us, but at the same time none of us were surprised. Even as a 16-year-old we saw the potential and the ability to do what he’s doing now, so it’s been awesome,” Robbins said.
Gaines didn’t have the luxury of a redshirt season with the Hurricanes, as former Miami coach Randy Shannon elected to use him on special teams.
“That was unfortunate, because with another year in school, who knows what could happen?” Robbins said. “But everything happens for a reason and he’s getting an opportunity with his hometown team, the one he grew up rooting for. At the end of the day, he’s happy with how things worked out.”
The other undrafted free agents signed by the Bills on Tuesday included:
• Deon Broomfield, DB, Iowa State: A 6-0, 206-pounder, Broomfield made 18 career starts for the Cyclones with 133 tackles, 16 pass breakups, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.
• Damien Jacobs, DT, Florida: A transfer from East Mississippi Community College, the 6-3, 284-pounder made 34 tackles, including six for loss, and 2.5 sacks, in two seasons with the Gators.
• Bryan Johnson, DE, West Texas A&M: Johnson recorded 89 tackles, including 16.5 for a loss, and eight sacks in two seasons at West Texas after transferring from Nassau Community College.
• Darrin Kitchens, LB, Florida: Kitchens made six starts for the Gators and appeared in 45 career games. He earned the team’s Fergie Ferguson Leadership Award and Gene Elleson Community Service Award.
• Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Ladler started 39 career games with the Commodores and finished with 291 tackles and nine interceptions. He became the first defensive back in Southeastern Conference history to lead a team in tackles in two consecutive years (90 in 2012 and 91 in 2013).
• Darius Robinson, CB, Clemson: Robinson had six interceptions in 38 career games (25 starts) with the Tigers.
The Bills also announced they have come to terms with defensive back Derek Brim and defensive tackle Colby Way, both of the University at Buffalo. They are expected to sign before the start of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp Saturday. Additionally, the Bills announced the release of offensive lineman Jamaal Johnson-Webb.