TAMPA — Steven Means Sr. was watching his favorite team, the Raiders, on television in the living room of his Buffalo home when his 5-year-old son, Steven Jr., joined him.
Means had just started playing youth football, and in between peppering his father with questions, he made a pledge.
"He looked at me and said, 'Daddy, one day I'm going to play in the NFL,' " the elder Means recalled. "I looked over at him with a big smile, with my eyes welled up, and said, 'I'll do whatever I can to help you get there. That's your dream.' "
Means' dream became a reality two weeks ago when the Bucs selected the University of Buffalo defensive end in the fifth round of the draft.
Considering he didn't know if he would even get picked — having not even been invited to the NFL scouting combine — Means said he was "speechless" when he got the call while playing catch with his dad.
"A beautiful feeling," Means Sr. said.
Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn said the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder was even more motivated after believing he was overlooked.
"I've always had that tough road to go through. I've always had to sneak through the back door," Means, 23, said. "I had to get a connection from my grandfather to get into a public high school. 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."
Quinn said the key to getting drafted was Means "really delivered" at Buffalo's pro day in March. The Bucs were one of more than 20 teams represented in Orchard Park, N.Y., and they also conducted a private workout with him.
"He might be a little bit off your radar, but he wasn't off ours," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "Any time you can draft a pass rusher, you don't want to pass him up. We think he's got tremendous traits."
Means showed that at Grover Cleveland High, where his grandfather, Sonny, pulled some strings so he could attend the school closer to his home. Means was known for his work ethic, pushed by his father, who played defensive tackle for Buffalo State, and younger brothers Brandon, 21, and Cameron, 14.
Means did wind sprints at home after practice — while wearing a parachute.
"It was funny. Some of the time I would tease him. I'd say, 'Man, I saw you guys out there sucking wind,' " Means Sr. said. "And he'd have this look on his face, run upstairs and change and get his parachute and take off running up and down the street until I went out and stopped him."
And while Means' SAT scores stopped some of the bigger schools from pursuing him, his hometown University of Buffalo stayed on him. The Bulls were rewarded as Means racked up 18½ career sacks, fourth most in school history.
"I just don't like being touched," Means said. "And that's probably why I'm a decent pass rusher."
Means also starred on special teams with five blocked kicks. And Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he could be a contributor in that role.
"He's got tremendous potential," Quinn said.
Means matured both physically and as a leader during his career, helping spark the Bulls' turnaround during his senior season. After they lost their fourth game in a row, 45-3 at Northern Illinois, Quinn said they were "fighting for our lives" and, potentially, their jobs.
On the bus ride home, Means texted Quinn: "Coach, I have your back."
Led by Means, the Bulls won three of their next five games.
"That really defined, in my opinion, his maturity level, his respect," Quinn said. "I'm proud of him."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]