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Mulkey at a career crossroad; Ex-UB hoops star tries out with Bills

Byron Mulkey is aware the odds aren't lined up in his favor.

It's been more than half a decade -- six years, six months and 13 days, to be exact -- since the former University at Buffalo point guard last played an official football game, in his senior year at Niagara-Wheatfield.

But in all that time, the flame Mulkey held for football never truly went out.

So after a short stint playing professional basketball in Morocco, Mulkey came back to UB and over the winter traded his high tops for cleats.

He started training in earnest a few months ago, curious as to where it could lead him.

Today, he'll take the field on a tryout basis at the sport's highest level, determined to see this Hollywood script through to the end. Mulkey and 20 other invited tryout participants will join the Buffalo Bills' rookies and first-year players for a three-day minicamp.

"I'm not looking to waste anyone's time. I really think I can do this, and that's what I'm looking to show this weekend," Mulkey said.

That focus comes as no surprise to those who know Mulkey best.

"There is nothing I would put past Byron Mulkey, because he loves a challenge," said Al Pogel, Mulkey's high school football coach. "He draws his inspiration from trying to be the best he can be."

Mulkey's played the underdog before. He was an All-Western New York defensive back for the Falcons, but turned down the chance to play college football to instead walk-on to the UB basketball team. He walked right into a starting point guard role as a freshman.

"Obviously it's a different sport, but I think some of the mental aspects [are similar]," Mulkey said. "The toughness, the attention to detail, those are things that I've been able to translate well. If I can allow them to see that, and show that I have the physical ability to get things done prove that I'm worthy of the opportunity, that will go a long way."

Pogel also sees another similarity between the two sports.

"Running the point, he's able to see things in front of him. I don't know what the Bills are going to ask him to do, but I know that he can see the field just like he could see the court in basketball," he said.

Mulkey has had two main priorities in his training -- putting on weight and mastering the footwork needed to play cornerback, which is where he'll work for the Bills. He weighed in at 187 pounds this week, the most he's ever been, and hopes to get up to 190 on his 6-foot frame. That's up about 15 pounds from his basketball career, but it hasn't sacrificed his speed. Mulkey's most recent 40 time was an unofficial 4.5 seconds.

As for the foot work, Mulkey's worked with Eric Thatcher, the Bills' defensive quality control coach.

"He's been a gauge as far as whether this has been realistic or not," Mulkey said of Thatcher, whom the Bills did not make available for an interview for this story. "The biggest thing with my feet has been my positioning and keeping them under me. It's kind of short, quick steps, instead of long strides, which in basketball are necessary."

In Mulkey's senior year with the Falcons he played mainly at free safety, compiling 41 solo tackles and three interceptions. Pogel felt comfortable putting him anywhere on the field, though.

"He was multi-talented. He played quarterback (he threw for 1,063 yards and 14 touchdowns), but he could have been a receiver had we had someone who was throwing the ball to him," he said. "[On defense], he was all over the field. He has a nose for the ball."

Anyone who's spent time with Mulkey, however, knows his on-field ability is just a small part of who he is.

"He can draw you in because of his leadership skills," Pogel said. "There's no doubt in my mind he will do himself, his alma maters, his family and everyone else proud."

Niagara-Wheatfield invited Mulkey to address its graduating class last year, a rare honor for a 23-year-old alumnus. Mulkey's selfless nature was also on display at UB, when he accepted a redshirt in his senior season.

"It was a tremendous thing for our students to hear from someone who had done what he did as a walk-on at a Division-I school, chasing his dreams," Pogel said. "He gave a tremendous speech. I think the kids learned a lot from him. We asked him to do that because we know what kind of a young man that he is."

Mulkey is missing a graduation today -- his own. He's completed his course work at UB for a master's degree in higher education administration.

***

Another UB product and Western New York native is on the Bills' tryout list. Cornerback Domonic Cook, who signed with the Bills last season as an undrafted free agent, but hurt his knee during training camp and later reached an injury settlement with the team, will also be in attendance.

For a complete list of the players trying out, visit the BillBoard blog on buffalonews.com.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com