TAMPA, Fla. — Over the past week, Steven Means has felt elation from a phone call he dreamed about since age 5, flew from his native western New York to Florida as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ fifth-round pick (147th overall) and joked that he’ll do anything — including snap the ball — to become an asset to coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik.
All this came after a common reaction to his selection: “Who is this guy?”
It’s a fair question, one that Dominik addressed last Saturday, unsolicited, when he said, “He might be a little bit off your radar, but he wasn’t off of ours.” Means, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound Buffalo product whom the Bucs envision as a developing pass rusher at defensive end, could become a diamond-in-the-rough pick if their vision develops according to plan.
Means, who had 185 tackles and 18.5 sacks in college, was never invited to the NFL Combine. If anything, Khalil Mack, a junior and an All-Mid-American Conference linebacker, overshadowed him on the Bulls’ defense.
Overcoming being overlooked has been part of Means’ profile since his days growing up in Buffalo, as early as the time when his grandfather, Sonny, pulled some strings to help him enroll at Grover Cleveland High School to set the soft-spoken, but aggressive, talent on an unlikely path to the NFL.
“I had to get a connection from my grandfather to get into a public high school,” said Means, who also has experience at linebacker. “Getting into college was the same way, with the SAT scores and not a lot of offers. With this situation, I had to show it at pro day. I had to show it the last half of the season.”
This is a time of year around the NFL when childhood dreams are relived, when journeys are remembered and new challenges are introduced. In that way, Means is no different from others who were drafted last weekend: One Sunday at age 5, he watched a game in the basement of his home with his father, Steven Sr., and looked at the television before saying, “Dad, I’m going to play in the NFL. I want to play in the NFL one day.” The father made a promise that he would do everything he could to help him reach that goal.
Last Saturday, father and son were outside their home playing catch while taking a break from draft viewing. Suddenly, Means’ phone rang. Means had been in contact with Tampa Bay and other teams, 19 in all, throughout a process that included an impressive showing at Buffalo’s pro day in March in Orchard Park, N.Y., before 21 scouts.
Means had saved all the relevant contact information, so when Tampa Bay called in the fifth round, he knew he would wear red and pewter. Steven Sr. shed tears of joy.
“We use all the resources we can, whether that’s through the coaching community or the scouting community,” Dominik said. “We did a private workout with the young man. … Any time you can draft a pass rusher, you don’t want to pass him up. We think he’s got tremendous traits at that ability.”
Those traits began to surface at Grover Cleveland High School. Tony Alessi, Means’ football coach, recalls the player arriving as a freshman with a size-15 shoe. Alessi named Means a captain during the player’s sophomore year – “The kids respected him and also feared him,” Alessi said – and Means became a two-time all-western New York selection who earned 108 tackles, 20 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception as a senior.
“I think it’s good that no one has heard of him,” Alessi told FOX Sports Florida. “I think the Tampa Bay fans are going to be real impressed with what he can do. He’s just a natural, raw talent. He’s got the total package. He’s got the hard work. He’s got the dedication. I think in the four years I coached him he never missed a practice once. … I think it was good that he was off the radar, but I think they’re going to be real surprised at what he can do.”
Means has come far with his ability, but he knows work has only begun. He gained attention for saying, “I just don’t like being touched,” when asked in a conference call, shortly after his selection, about his approach to rushing a quarterback.
He’ll have the chance to show as much later this spring and summer, when he shares a field with Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams, also a Buffalo native. But he’ll likely be asked to contribute this season on special teams, where he had three blocked kicks in his senior campaign.
On Thursday, as Tampa Bay’s draft picks spoke in a small room at One Buc Place, Means’ crowd was smaller than those present for higher selections such as cornerback Johnthan Banks (second round), quarterback Mike Glennon (third round) and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (fourth round). As most attention was directed elsewhere, Means shared what makes him go.
On having a mean streak: “Yeah,” he said with a big laugh.
On music he enjoys before taking the field: “I’m a firm believer in God,” he said. “But when it’s time to go hit the field, I listen to some hardcore stuff.” (Lil Wayne and DMX are among his favorites.)
On putting a quarterback on the turf: “It might be the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “Just being able to get my job done, that there just shows a strong sense of fighting through adversity.”
That experience with adversity will serve him well. Now, Means is potential, as are the Bucs’ other five draft picks. He was overlooked for much of his football life, but now that he has arrived, it’s up to him to create a long, notable NFL career.
There are surprises in each draft, possible gems found that cause most to say, “Where did he come from?” If all goes well for the Bucs, years into the future, their question will be, “What would we have done without him?”