ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — You've probably heard the phrase that there's always a Buffalo connection. Well, in the NFL, there's no shortage of people with ties to Western New York.
For starters, the Buffalo Bills have two University at Buffalo products on their payroll: cornerbacks Cam Lewis and Ja'Marcus Ingram. But there many other people — players, coaches, and general managers — who are connected to the region, and who will be on the other sideline, competing against the Bills this season.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m. vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Malcolm Koonce, a defensive end with the Raiders, played at UB, from 2017 to 2020. He played 45 games and finished with 110 tackles, including 22.5 for a loss and 18 sacks. He was a first team, all-Mid-American Conference honors in both 2019 and 2020. Entering this season, Koonce played 22 games with the Raiders, racking up 10 tackles and two sacks. Koonce finished with one solo tackle against the Bills.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, 8:20 p.m. vs. New York Giants, NBC
The NBC Sunday Night Football crew will go through a ton of connections between the Bills and Giants, and two of them go through St. Francis High School in Hamburg. Former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll comes back to Western New York, where he graduated in 1993 from St. Francis, as did Chris Smith, a 2005 graduate and former University at Buffalo graduate assistant.
Giants general manager Joe Schoen was with the Bills as an assistant GM from 2017 to 2021. There's edge rusher Boogie Basham, who was traded to the New York Giants before the season began. And finally, there's Tyree Jackson, the former UB quarterback who is on the Giants' practice squad after being cut in the preseason by the Philadelphia Eagles. At Buffalo, he threw for nearly 7,000 yards and 60 total touchdowns. In 2018, he led the Bulls to 10-4 record, with trips to the MAC championship game in Detroit and the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, 1 p.m. at New England Patriots; Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, 1 p.m. vs. New England Patriots
Tyrone Wheatley Jr., a Buffalo native who played at Canisius High, is an offensive tackle with the Patriots. He played in college at Michigan and Stony Brook, and in the NFL, he's spent time with the Chicago Bears, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Cleveland Browns. His father played running back in the NFL for 10 seasons and coached running backs for the Bills in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, 8:20 p.m. at Cincinnati Bengals, NBC
Charlie Jones, a rookie wide receiver for the Bengals, wasn't at UB for very long. He was a redshirt freshman in 2017. The next season, he caught 18 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. Jones transferred to Iowa and played two seasons before going to Purdue, where he caught 110 passes for a school-record 1,361 yards in 2022 before turning pro. He was a fourth-round pick in the spring draft.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, 4:25 p.m. at Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are coached by Nick Sirianni, a Jamestown native who graduated from Southwestern High School in 1999. The Eagles lost 38-35 to the Kansas City Chiefs in last season's Super Bowl, and should be Super Bowl contenders again. Before becoming the Eagles' coach, that, he spent three seasons as offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts under former Bills quarterback Frank Reich. Philadelphia went 9-8 in 2021, his first season.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, 4:25 p.m. at Kansas City Chiefs
Jody Fortson, now a tight end with the Chiefs, is out for the season with a shoulder injury he sustained during training camp. He has won two Super Bowls with the team. An undrafted free agent in 2019, the South Park High graduate spent his first two seasons on the practice squad. Since then, he has snagged 14 receptions for 155 yards and four touchdowns over 19 games the past two seasons.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, 4:25 p.m. vs. Dallas Cowboys
This Western New York connection is truly a Bills connection. Stefon Diggs and his brother, Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, will be on opposite sidelines in this game.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 23, 8 p.m. at Los Angeles Chargers, NBC and Peacock
Khalil Mack, an outside linebacker for the Chargers, was a former UB standout who was the fifth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Mack is entering his second season with the Chargers. In fact, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year attended UB's Blue and White spring game earlier this year. "He's walking proof that if you want to go be a first-round draft pick or want to be a top-five draft pick, just look over your shoulder. Look at 46," Bulls coach Maurice Linguist said in April.
Jaret Patterson is also with the Chargers, on the practice squad, starting in Week 2. He was a running back with the Commanders before being cut on Aug. 28, enjoyed a memorable run with the Bulls from 2018 to 2020, when he ran for nearly 3,900 yards and 52 touchdowns. In only six games during a COVID-shortened 2020 season, Patterson ran for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns, and he led the nation with an average 178.7 yards per game. In his first two NFL seasons, he had 85 carries for 344 yards and two touchdowns in 20 games.
Other active Western New York connections in the NFL:
Stephen Carlson, a tight end who graduated from Jamestown High in 2015, was signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He's now on the Chicago Bears roster.
Tyler Mabry, a tight end who spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons at UB, is in his second season with the Seattle Seahawks. In two games he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Isaiah McDuffie, a Buffalo native and Bennett High graduate, played at Boston College from 2017 to 2020. He was taken in the sixth round by the Green Bay Packers in the 2021 draft. He had 30 tackles in 30 games in his first two seasons.
Qadree Ollison, a Niagara Falls native who starred at Canisius High, was on the Jaguars' preseason roster but was cut on Aug. 28, then was signed to the Steelers' practice squad on Sept. 2 before being promoted to the active roster. After playing at Pittsburgh in college, he spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, amassing 158 yards and five touchdowns on 44 attempts. He spent the 2022 season with the Dallas Cowboys but did not play.
K.J. Osborn, a wide receiver who played at UB from 2015 to 2018, was a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2020. He caught 110 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 34 games over the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Other Western New York connections around the NFL:
Kayode Awosika, a guard who played at UB from 2016 to 2020, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2021, then spent the 2022 season with the Detroit Lions, who recently released him on Aug. 29.
Demone Harris, a Buffalo native and defensive end who played at UB from 2014 to 2017, entered the league with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. He's also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, who released him during the preseason. He was recently signed by the Atlanta Falcons but was cut as rosters were trimmed to 53 players.
Justin Marshall, a wide receiver who played in 2022 at UB, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent but was released in the spring. He later signed with the Seattle Seahawks but did not make the 53-man roster.
Steven Means, a Buffalo native and linebacker who played at UB from 2009 to 2012, was a fifth-round of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. He's also spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, and most recently the 2022 season with the Baltimore Ravens.
Mason Schreck, who played at UB from 2012 to 2016, was a seventh-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. Most recently, he spent the 2022 season with the Houston Texans.