Buffalo is a sports town. In between the chicken wing grease and slices of beef on weck, Buffalonians live for the pigskin and die for the puck.
Nowhere else can you find a sold out stadium of 80,000-plus in the dead of winter cheer on a perennial last place team.
But who knew that our city has become a production factory for up and coming professional athletes?
Buffalo has already spit out NHLers including Patrick Kane, Pat Kaleta, Tim Kennedy, Brooks Orpik and Todd Marchant. NBA Rookie of the Year candidate, Jonny Flynn, joined the list of NBA stars including Christian Laettner, Greg Oden and Bob Lanier that once called Buffalo home.
With this year's NFL Draft looming, the time has come for Buffalo to add more aspiring stars to the list.
The 2010 draft class will feature six athletes born and raised in Buffalo, and every guy in the group is likely to get a phone call from the National Football League come April 22.
Headlining the group is UB's own James Starks.
Despite missing his senior season, the Niagara Falls native left UB as the school's all-time leading rusher with 3,140 yards and 34 touchdowns in three seasons.
Starks is currently projected to go off the board anywhere between the third and sixth rounds. The 6-foot 2-inch running back is on NFL teams' radars after boasting a time of 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 9-foot 11-inch broad jump and 36-inch vertical jump.
Since joining Buffalo, he has evolved into a unique mold for a professional running back and I love what he brings to the table.
St. Josephs graduate Naaman Roosevelt is another Bull looking to make his mark.
At 6-feet tall, UB's all-time leading receiver is projected to find a new home in the later rounds of the draft. The agile receiver possesses soft hands, sharp route running, quickness and the intelligence needed to become an ideal slot receiver.
Roosevelt lacks ideal size and struggles in blocking. Injuries have also hurt him in the past, but his versatility as a kick returner will help him draw interest. If he can stay healthy, the Buffalo native could add good depth to a receiving corp. as a rookie.
Former Syracuse Orange wide receiver Mike Williams joins Starks and Roosevelt with hopes of making an impact on offense come 2010. The Riverside High finished with 60 receptions for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns his sophomore season at Cuse.
Williams has the frame and the tools to grow into a starting NFL wideout, but has already drawn comparisons to Pacman Jones and Charles Rogers.
He was suspended by the Orange for the 2008 season for academic reasons and quit the team halfway through last season. Despite these problems, one team will take a chance on Williams.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski of Williamsville and St. Francis graduate Doug Worthington will both be heading to NFL training camps as well. Gronkowski is one of the top tight ends in the draft and could become a valuable starter if he can stay healthy. Worthington figures to be a late round pick, but the 6-foot 5-inch defensive lineman has the versatility to add good depth to a defensive line.
Rounding out the Buffalo boys is James Mallory.
From Central Connecticut State, Mallory runs with a chip on his shoulder despite his 5-foot 10-inch stature. The two-year starter with the Blue Devils caught scouts' eyes after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons that combined for 31 touchdowns.
The Kenmore native is a burner with the ball in his hands. He has the vision to find the hole, quickness and power to hit it and breakaway speed to get into the open field.
What stands out, however, is his special teams play. Mallory blocked three punts as a senior and excelled in punt and kickoff coverage.
There's no single player I'm pulling for more to get a phone call in April. Having shared the hallways of Kenmore West High School, I watched Mallory grow into the player he is today. He has the heart of a lion and the attitude every coach would love to have on his roster.
I'm crossing my fingers that he'll be dawning the red, white and blue next season at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Goodluck, gentleman. Here's to one day hoping each of you will bring the Lombardi trophy back to Buffalo – no matter what team you play for.