Former Kansas University tight end Derek Fine did not have to dump much of his KU gear when he joined the NFL last April.
Thanks to the Buffalo Bills selecting him with one of their two fourth-round picks (No. 132 overall), Fine still wears red and blue to work.
Through rookie camp, off-season training activities, minicamp and the preseason, the Jayhawk some saw as a longshot to get drafted, has managed to stick with the Bills. The two-time KU captain officially signed a contract with Buffalo on June 25. Since then, he's done nothing but impress while fighting for a roster spot with the team famous for losing Super Bowls.
Of the four KU players selected in last year's NFL Draft - Fine, Anthony Collins, Marcus Henry and Aqib Talib - Fine's story might be the most interesting.
Collins and Talib were blessed with All-American talent. Henry was given all-world speed and employed a strong work ethic to figure out how to use it. Fine was blessed with All-American heart.
"He's a guy that, all four years he was at Kansas, played on special teams," Buffalo special teams coordinator Bobby April told the team's Web site. "I saw him play so I know what he can do, and he's fantastic. I think he's a good tight end and he's going to play tight end, but we put an investment in him because I think he's going to be a knock-down, drag-out special teamer."
Pro Bowl rosters save a spot for special-teams standouts, so a trip to Honolulu could be in Fine's future.
Listed on the Bills' depth chart as the third-string tight end, Fine faces an uphill battle for playing time at that position. That hill became steeper recently when Fine injured the thumb on his left hand while making a tackle during a preseason game. Doctors told Fine he could miss up to five weeks. He's not planning on being out that long.
"Hopefully, it will be sooner than that," Fine said. "I want to get back as fast as possible. It's just a stinkin' thumb. I can tough this out."
Therein lies the attitude that defined D. Fine during his days in Lawrence, and the reason he went from relative unknown to NFL contributor in just a couple of years.
Fine's not the only member of the 2008 Orange Bowl championship squad expected to contribute in the NFL this season, which gets going tonight when the New York Giants take on the Washington Redskins.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked Talib with their first-round pick (20th) and their latest depth chart has Talib - now wearing No. 25 - penciled in as a second-string cornerback behind Pro Bowlers Phillip Buchanon and Ronde Barber.
Collins, a fourth-round pick of Cincinnati, is listed as the Bengals' back-up left tackle, and the 6-foot-4 Henry is listed on the New York Jets' depth chart as one of seven wide receivers for newly acquired QB Brett Favre.