Q&A with Buffalo Bulls LB Khalil Mack
Butkus Award Finalist discusses past, present and future – including possibility of being drafted by the Bills
*This story was published Nov. 26, 2013 by Yahoo! Sports. Photo by Jeffrey Barnes.
AMHERST, N.Y. -- When Khalil Mack left his native Fort Pierce, Fla., to play football for the University at Buffalo Bulls, it wasn't exactly headline news.
Quite a bit has changed over the course of five years. The now 6-foot-3, 248-pound Mack has emerged as one the most sought-after prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The two-time, first-team All-MAC selection leads the Bulls with 82 tackles (16.5 for loss), 10.5 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles. With one regular-season game remaining in his collegiate career, he is the NCAA career record-holder for forced fumbles with 16, and he needs just 2.5 tackles for loss to become the NCAA's all-time best in that department.
I caught up with Mack, 22, moments after he was named a finalist for the 2013 Butkus Award, given annually to college football's best linebacker.
Charles Roberts: It's been quite the ride for you. You went from redshirting as a freshman -- a somewhat unknown -- to being discussed as a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft.
Khalil Mack: It definitely evolved through the grace of God. I got recruited by coach Robert Wembley of [FCS] Liberty and then he came up to Buffalo. And then Buffalo came down the next week and made me the offer. Since then, I've been working hard to succeed -- especially as a football player. But I've developed as a person up here in Buffalo, too, and I feel blessed to be in the position I'm in.
CR: You easily could have forgone your senior season to go to the NFL. Before the start of this season, you talked about wanting to finish what you started here in Buffalo. Well, here we are, and you are part of an 8-3 team that looks poised for a bowl game.
KM: It's a blessing, man. I'm really fortunate to be in the position I am, thanks to my coaches and teammates. And then there are the guys who have played here before; you think about what the guys like Naaman Roosevelt, James Starks and Josh Thomas -- he had a pick Sunday against Miami [for the Carolina Panthers] – did when they were here. It motivates you.
CR: The NFL Draft talk is unavoidable. I know you are dialed in, looking to win a MAC championship, but how exciting is it to see your name mentioned as a possible top-10 pick?
KM: It's pretty exciting, man. It's pretty exciting. But at the same time, I can't get too excited. We've got a game Friday and we've got to keep grinding, man. But, I mean, yeah -- I'm not going to say that I'm not thinking about it. I'm definitely excited.
CR: Was there a point for you when the switch flipped? In other words, a time when you knew you were NFL-bound?
KM: Not so much. I heard it from teammates, though. Davonte Shannon, Starks, Naaman ... those guys would say, "Man, you are going in the first round." And I'd be like, "OK, OK. We'll see." But then I just kept working hard and now that I'm in that position, I can't let those guys down. I can't tell you how thankful I am for those guys instilling that in me. I'm not going to say they saw it before the coaches or anything, but they kept pushing me to do the right thing and work hard -- and I really thank them for that.
CR: Is there one bit of advice in particular that's really resonated with you?
KM: My father always told me, "There's always someone out there who's working harder than you." And I didn't like that, so I'm always trying to make sure that I'm working as hard as possible. You've seen it. I put myself in that position, even in practice, where I don't want anyone to outwork me. I've been continuously working hard, and like I said, it helps to have great teammates that push you even further.
CR: It's obviously way too early to even speculate, but there are people out there who do it, so let's talk about it -- I've seen a few mock drafts that have you going to the Bills.
KM: [Laughs] Man ... that would be a miracle. But I've seen it. I thought Steve [Means] was going to get picked by the Bills, for sure. And then you have Naaman, who went to the Bills as an undrafted free agent. I've seen it. It would be a lot of fun and definitely a blessing. I've gotten pretty used to it up here -- you know, except for the weather. It was 55 last week and today it's 20-something.
CR: Jim Kelly didn't want to come here after going to school in Miami and now he's a full-time Buffalonian.
KM: Exactly. That's what Buffalo does to you. It's the people. I've been around town and you meet some truly good people. We’ll see what happens.