Bulls in the pros — football

How former UB football stars are adjusting to life in the professional ranks

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Last Sunday, the Super Bowl marked the end of the 2019 NFL season.

After the game, TV crews found former UB football star and current Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Demone Harris making confetti snow angels at Hard Rock Stadium.

While Harris’ season was coming to a ceremonious ending, four UB grads were awaiting their opportunity to shine in a brand-new football league, the XFL.

UB has nine former football players in the professional ranks.

For the first installation of a three-part series on former UB athletes, The Spectrum takes a look at the UB grads who excel on the gridiron:

Demone Harris, Linebacker — NFL (Kansas City Chiefs)

Harris grew up in the Queen City, and graduated from Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School in 2013. He was a walk-on at UB, where he worked his way up into the starting lineup and was named second-team All-MAC after his senior season.

Harris, following his collegiate career, went unselected in the 2018 NFL Draft, before signing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. He spent the next two years bouncing between Tampa Bay and Baltimore’s practice squads, before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and elevatinged to their 53-man roster.

He earned playing time in the playoffs as a reserve against Houston and Tennessee. On Feb. 2, Harris won Super Bowl LIV with the Chiefs, capping off a storybook season.

Tyree Jackson, Quarterback — XFL (DC Defenders)

Jackson came to UB as a three-star recruit from Muskegon, MI, but departed after leading the Bulls to their most successful season ever.

He was named the 2018 MAC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,131 yards and 28 touchdowns. Jackson finished his career near the top of the school record books: No. 3 in touchdowns (49), No. 4 in yards (6,999) and No. 5 in completion percentage (55.8).

Jackson went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, and was released by the Bills during final roster cuts. He was a ninth-round selection in the XFL Draft, and currently serves as a backup to former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

John Kling, Offensive Tackle — XFL (New York Guardians)

Kling is one of the largest athletes in UB history, weighing in at 6’8” and 330 lb. at the peak of his playing career. The Cheektowaga native played high school football at Depew, before becoming a feared starter on the UB offensive line.

While at UB, he earned a reputation for being a hard worker and a student of the game. Today, he is a familiar face for the XFL’s New York Guardians.

Kling, prior to joining the new league, spent time with the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. He also spent a few months with the Atlanta Legends of the now-defunct American Alliance of Football (AAF).

Khalil Mack, Linebacker — NFL (Chicago Bears)

Mack came to UB as a two-star recruit from Fort Pierce, FL. He had initially tried to play basketball, but became a quarterback when he switched to football because of injuries.

These might have deterred regular players, but Mack is not a regular player. Over his four-year career, Mack became one of the most productive players in the history of the sport. He was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press, set the NCAA all-time mark for forced fumbles, and was named the 2013 MAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Mack was selected in the first round, fifth overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2014. He enjoyed immediate success, finishing in the top three in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting and earning a spot on the USA Football’s All-Fundamentals Team. In 2016, Mack was named Defensive Player of the Year. Two years later, he became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at the time.

Mack has spent the past two seasons in Chicago, where he has anchored one of the league’s top defenses. He finished the 2019 campaign with 8.5 sacks, 40 total tackles and 5 forced fumbles.

Steven Means, Defensive End — NFL (Atlanta Falcons)

Like Harris and Kling, Means was born in the Queen City and attended Grover Cleveland High School.

Unlike Harris and Kling, Means was a starter during his freshman year. He made an immediate impact for the Bulls, and by the time he graduated, in 2013, Means was permanently etched in school record books. Today, he ranks fifth in sacks and 10th in tackles-for-loss.

Means was selected in the fifth round, 147th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. In the years since, he has been with the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles and most recently, the Atlanta Falcons.

Means suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in OTAs in May.

Naaman Roosevelt, Wide Receiver — CFL (Saskatchewan Roughriders)

In 2006, Roosevelt was the 14th-ranked recruit from New York. He had offers from big programs like Boston College, Maryland and Syracuse but ended up committing to UB, his local college.

That gamble paid off: Roosevelt became the program’s all-time leader in receptions (268) and receiving yards (3,551) during his college career. He ranks second in receiving touchdowns (28) and 100-yard games (14).

Roosevelt went undrafted in 2010, but bounced around the NFL with the Bills, Browns and Lions. In 2015, he signed with Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League, and he’s been there ever since. In 2019, he played 18 games, recording 946 yards and a touchdown on 77 receptions.

James O’Hagan, Center — XFL (DC Defenders)

O’Hagan was an unusual get by former UB head coach Jeff Quinn. He was actually a top-ranked heavyweight wrestler, and Quinn only found out about him while looking through a list of high school grapplers.

It was a worthy investment for the Bulls, who reaped the rewards of the gamble. Over a four-year career, O’Hagan anchored one of the most productive offensive lines in the nation. In 2017, he allowed just 2 hurries and 0 sacks.

O’Hagan went undrafted in 2019, before signing with the Giants for training camp. The Giants released him before the start of the season, and sat out until October, when he was selected in the eighth round of the offensive line stage of the XFL Draft.

Mason Schreck, Tight End — NFL (Cincinnati Bengals)

Schreck has made a name for himself at both the collegiate and professional levels, but for two very different reasons.

As a two-star recruit from Medina, OH, Schreck came to UB as an athletic pass catcher. He led the Bulls in receiving yards (651) and touchdowns (4) in 2016. He was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List that year.

At the professional level, Schreck actually doesn’t have a single catch, despite playing in the NFL for the better part of two seasons. Rather, he has earned playing time as a special teams ace. He is entering the second year of a two-year deal with the Bengals.

Jake Schum, Punter — XFL (Tampa Bay Vipers)

Schum is a Buffalo native, and like many others on this list, has had a difficult journey to get to where he is today.

After a largely successful career punting at UB, Schum bounced around the NFL, making stops in Cleveland, New York, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. He suffered a back injury that hampered his chances at playing football professionally again in 2017.

His football career was revitalized in October, when he was selected in the open phase round of the XFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Vipers.

Schum made his XFL debut on Sunday, in a 23-3 loss to the New York Guardians.

Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor and can be reached at justin.weiss@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @jwmlb1

JUSTIN WEISS


Justin Weiss is an asst. sports editor at The Spectrum