Everyone loves an underdog story, even when the underdog weighs almost 400 pounds. Maybe that’s why fans have been so interested in Michael Jasper, the Bills’ seventh-round draft pick from Bethel. People have marveled at his athleticism, his size, and his successful effort to drop over 50 pounds to meet the goal set by Buffalo scout Matt Hand. I had the opportunity to speak with Jasper recently and ask him about his NFL experience and what he hopes to accomplish as a Buffalo Bill.
ZM: First of all, congratulations on signing with the Bills. How would you rate your performance in the first two games?
MJ: That’s a hard question. I feel like I’ve got a lot of things I need to improve on, and I gotta keep working. But I feel like I also got a good feel for the game, and got some good films to study, and to correct myself on. I think if I keep working at it I’ll be all right.
ZM: How different has it been playing in the NFL than being in college?
MJ: Well, you know, coming from Bethel it’s extremely different. [laughs] The speed of the game is ridiculous. My best college play is every play in the NFL, and if you don’t bring it, then you’re going to get exposed. And it’s funny how the ball will find you when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. And it happens a lot on this level.
ZM: When you were at Bethel, were you even thinking about the NFL? Was that even an option you had in your mind?
MJ: Well, coming on the road that I was on, at that point in time, I really was just like, y’know, just get things turned around, get a degree, and enjoy playing ball as long as possible. But once scouts started coming around, the dream kind of refreshed, you know what I’m saying? When Matt Hand gave me a goal weight to get to, I just sort of attacked it. I took it one step at a time. Matt, he’s like a big brother to me now. And we still set goals. It’s one goal at a time, y’know, reach this mark and then we’ll talk. So I reached the mark and he kept his end of the bargain and got me to work out, and I had a good workout and he said, you know, he realized he wanted me to be in Buffalo, and that’s where I wanted to be. And the fact that Mr. Nix and Coach Gailey and Mr. Wilson decided to draft me, that was huge. It was a blessing, you know what I mean? I’m very excited to be up here.
ZM: Has Matt told you, did he ever say to you what it was that he saw in your play style that made him come to someone like you, from Bethel, and say “this is the guy we want on our roster”?
MJ: Mainly my size – it’s a blessing and a curse. A lot of teams when they saw how big I was, automatically turned away from me. But Matt stayed and watched practice and saw how athletic I was, saw the potential. And then when I had the Pro Day I just, y’know, I had good numbers for a guy my size. It was just the athletic ability and the upsides that I have. But another thing was, he always talked about my character and everything, and the type of guy that I am – I fit in well up here. And the team is amazing. I mean Kyle Williams, great guy. Dwan Edwards. Spence, and all those guys. They’re all good people – in general, y’know? Football aside, they’re good people. And I fit in really well up here. And he was exactly right, and once I got up here I just fit right in.
ZM: In another interview you said that once you began to lose weight you started to feel like you were in better shape and you were more explosive. Have you continued to lose weight or are you still at around 375, 390, where you were around the Pro Day? [Author’s Note: Jasper is currently listed on the Bills website at 394 pounds, but his Pro Day stats in mid-April list him at 378, and in May Chris Brown wrote that he weighed 373 ]
MJ: I’m still around that weight, but now that I’m up here and the lockout’s over, I’m refocusing on it. And I’m actually in a better situation now that I attacked it again. And I feel like the great strength staff we’ve got up here, the conditioning coaches we’ve got, John Gamble – they’re really working with me on getting it down. I’m looking forward to throughout the season, and even into the offseason, getting into even better shape.
ZM: If you had to run Pro Day again, with the training you’ve been doing, do you think you’d do even better than the stats you’ve got up on your website now?
MJ: Oh yeah. I feel like now, y’know – we’ve been in camp – but if I was to rest my body and give it another go I definitely feel I could do better. Y’know, hindsight’s 20/20, so I feel like there are some things – nerves! I wouldn’t be as nervous now that I’m here. [laughs] But I think I could get down a little bit.
ZM: You were talking about training camp, and some of the veteran players there: what kind of interactions have you had with some of the veteran guys there? Have they been helping you out?
MJ: Yeah. Kyle, I mean any question I’ve ever had to ask, I can ask Kyle. He’s set me straight on what I need to do, what I need to fix, and what I need to work on. Coach Smith is awesome, he’s a great coach. He’s straightforward with me and tells me what I need to work on and focuses in on it. And I mean, Torell, I can ask Troup, I can ask Dwan – really, all the guys. If I have a question, they won’t big-league you like you hear a couple guys do around the league. As a young player, you know, they don’t view me as a threat – I’m a teammate and they help me out, and I really appreciate it.
ZM: You’ve had a little bit of experience with the 3-4 when you were at Bethel. How effective do you think Buffalo’s 3-4 defense is going to be this season?
MJ: I feel that we’re a very strong defense, with our veteran guys. Each year you get better in a system, and I feel like, as you can see in our preseason games, and see through practice, I feel like we’re strong. We’ve got great coaches, good coaching staff, implementing a great game plan week to week. And we got some guys on the defensive side of the ball that just really want to attack it and attack the grind. So I feel like things are really on the upside.
ZM: From the guys you’ve seen in training camp, from what you guys have been doing, who of your teammates is going to be really explosive and really impress people this year?
MJ: Oh man, that’s hard! I obviously feel like any one of our guys up front on the D-line can make plays. We got a great group. I mean, you got Shawn Merriman who’s an animal, and it’s fun to watch him play in practice. We got Nick Barnett now, and I mean that guy is extremely explosive and fun to watch. I mean really, any one of our starters on defense are capable of making great plays, so I’m really excited about that.
ZM: Unfortunately, you guys obviously didn’t have a lot of time with the playbook since the lockout. How comfortable do you think you are with the defensive schemes that Buffalo is running?
MJ: I’m pretty comfortable with it. Once we came in it wasn’t really smooth, we kind of had to hit the ground running. But you know, going through the walkthroughs, everything’s real thorough, and then walkthroughs, and then practice. I think I’m learning it quite well. And like I say, any questions you’ve got, it gets answered. And this is also a job, it’s not like college, where if you don’t get it you’ll be okay. You gotta show up to work, you gotta put the time in on your own as well to know the material. It’s not pay to play, you know? [laughs] You’re just sitting home!
ZM: You’ve said in another interview that one thing you like about being on defense is having to play those doubles and triples, facing down a lot of players. Have you had a chance to practice that at all, or get to it in games?
MJ: Oh yeah, at the nose you see them every day! [laughs] I’m getting better at it. It’s a challenge, it’s fun. I enjoy that challenge of trying to hold that point and saying, “can you two guys move me off the ball?” I really enjoy that, I enjoy that pressure, when it’s back against the wall, goal-line – I like that. I got this gap, it’s me and you, and who’s going to win it? That’s just the type of guy I am. I think Coach Smith, and those guys, they see that and they see the potential I can have in the future to really help out the team.
ZM: Looking to the future, and based on what you’ve done so far in preseason, what are the couple of things you need to do personally to get yourself onto that starting lineup, and get playing time during the regular season?
MJ: I just really need to focus on my technique, and continue to lose the weight, and strive to improve every day. I’m not gonna – y’know, it’s no secret that I’m a developmental player, and that I’ve got a lot things I need to work on, and I’ve got a long, long road ahead of me. But every day I just try to aim to get better than the day before. And I can’t afford to digress at all. It’s known that that’s the situation. Every day I go to work, I go to get better. And Coach Smith is helping me out with that, as well as the veteran players.
ZM: I noticed you haven’t been tweeting at all during training camp. How are you keeping up with all of your fans?
MJ: Actually, I check my Facebook more than anything. I’ve got a fan page on the Facebook, and also the fans that come to practice, I always stay after and sign autographs when I can and just really talk to those guys. It’s amazing, it’s very humbling. The fans up here, it’s ridiculous – everybody said Buffalo had great fans, but I didn’t realize it until you’re actually up here. I enjoy every person I’ve come across in Buffalo, met on the streets, met at practice, walking around – great people. And I’m really thankful for that.
ZM: Well, we here at BuffaLowDown really hope that you do well, and we hope to see more of you in the next preseason games. Best of luck!