Khalil Mack is not finished rewriting the record book at the University at Buffalo.
All that’s left now for the Bulls’ prodigious linebacker is to become the first player in program history to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. That much is certain. The only question is just how long it will take before Mack hears his name called by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. Smart money is on “not long.” ¶ “I had Mack No. 1 on my board back at the combine, and I haven’t seen anything that would change my mind,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Monday night in announcing his top 100 available players – a list on which Mack ranks No. 1. ¶ Sports Illustrated’s Peter King published his mock draft Tuesday – with Mack going in the top spot to the Houston Texans. ¶ Let that sink in for a second. A player from UB – long the butt of college football jokes – potentially being the No. 1 pick in the draft? Disney would reject that script for being too hard to believe.
By now, Mack’s movie-worthy story is common knowledge. It’s been told in national outlets like ESPN and SI. He came to Buffalo from Florida because it was his only FBS scholarship offer. He was assigned No. 46 – as fate would have it, EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game gave him a 46 rating – and Mack kept the number as a reminder of the slight.
But his time as an underdog is over. Mack is one day away from realizing a dream precious few ever get the chance to. A contract that will make him fabulously wealthy will follow soon after.
It seems just about everyone these days wants a piece of him. His agency, Legardere Unlimited, has been inundated with interview requests.
The challenge now will be to remember how he arrived here.
Again, smart money says don’t bet against him.
“He’s been raised the right way,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “Those things don’t just all of a sudden happen at age 22. You can give a lot of credit to his mom and dad. They’ve instilled the right values in him. Certainly, he’s grounded.
“He’s a complete young man. I’ve seen it in the locker room. I’ve seen it in how he treats his fellow teammates and the coaches. He’s a spiritual young man and also a family man. … He inspires his teammates. He understands how to be humble and do it for other people. That’s not always easy – to find that balance and completion in a person.”
Quinn quotes a Bible passage, Proverbs 27:17, when describing what Mack has meant to UB: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Evidence of that was on display at UB’s pro day in March. Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance at the Buffalo Bills’ field house. Mack was obviously the main draw, but players like running back Branden Oliver, receiver Alex Neutz, cornerback Najja Johnson and defensive lineman Colby Way, among others, got a chance to impress scouts.
“There are a lot of guys here who are going to be on rosters in the fall,” said Johnson, who ran an eye-opening 4.38-second 40-yard dash at pro day. “These guys can play and it’s a great opportunity that Khalil has given us. The presence that Khalil brings, I just wanted to take full advantage of it and run my fastest. I definitely wanted a time that made the scouts double-check their watches, then go back and look at my game tape.”
That might not have happened without Mack’s presence. Of course, he would say that all he’s accomplished likewise wouldn’t have been possible without his teammates.
“It’s a brotherhood in that locker room as far as I’m concerned,” Mack said. “I gave it my all for every one of those guys, and I let them know that every chance I got.”
The result was nothing short of historic. Mack set the NCAA record for career forced fumbles with 16 and tied the mark for tackles for loss with 75. He was the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year and won the Jack Lambert Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
“I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. I feel like it was God’s will that I ended up in Buffalo,” he said. “Everybody’s asking me – from Florida to Buffalo, why, why? – It was God’s will. I feel like he placed me here, and I’m in the position I’m in now.
“It just goes to show a lot of people that hard work does pay off. Throughout my career here, I didn’t think this could possibly happen, but it did.”
Mack entered the 2013 season considered by most draft experts to be a second-round selection. That all changed on the final day of August last year in Columbus, Ohio.
Facing the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, Mack was a tour de force, finishing with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception he returned for a touchdown. There was no question who was the best player on the field that day.
“Especially being the first game of the season, it helped,” Mack said. “With the stage, I feel like there were a lot of people watching that game.”
Doug Majeski, the Bills’ coordinator of college scouting, was one of them.
“As a scout, I’m going to try to look at the best competition. That would be the first game of the season, and he made a bunch of plays, and he got a little buzz going,” he said. “That helps, no doubt. But when you look at every tape he’s on, he makes impact plays, whether it’s against San Diego State or Ohio State. He’s made plays in every game he’s been in.
“He’s an outstanding player. He’s got everything we’re looking for in a linebacker. He fits different schemes, he can play 4-3, he can play 3-4, and he’s really a great player. I hope we have the opportunity to draft him.”
Mack is set to become just the ninth UB player ever drafted, and the first to go in the first round.
“It means that we’re going to have somebody that’s going to set the bar high,” Quinn said. “It’s going to inspire our future players. … We signed the highest-rated recruiting class in the history of our program this year. Why? Because we were on national TV, and they had a chance to see players like Khalil Mack.”
Mack said he expects the toughest part of the transition to the NFL will be adapting to life as a professional, but that “there’s a whole lot of things that UB has set up for their players to do great things, especially at the next level.”
“I’m glad I got a chance to play here throughout my college career. Seeing guys like James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt, Davonte Shannon, all these guys that instilled that greatness in this program, rubbed off on me,” Mack said. “They gave me confidence and they told me the first couple of days I got to Buffalo ‘you’re good, you’re good.’ Even though I’m looking up to them like ‘oh man, you’re telling me I’m good – you’re great.’ … I had the attitude that I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to settle for that compliment. I wanted to rise above, and prove them to be right.”