When first responding to questions about Bills seventh-round pick Michael Jasper, Bills GM Buddy Nix smiled. He knew there would be questions from the media about a player listed in most draft guides at 400-plus pounds, if he was listed at all. Nix, who is quick to turn a line, couldn’t resist.
“He’s not as big as you’ve got him listed,” said Nix. “He’s down to 378 so he’s drying up to nothing.”
Though the comment drew some laughs from reporters in the media room at One Bills Drive over the weekend, there’s a good chance that upon first glance of Michael Jasper in person no one will be laughing.
Jasper, who stands 6’4 ½” and currently 373 pounds, is literally a mountain of a man with a body type that leaves most onlookers with their jaws hanging open. That was what Bills scout Matt Hand did two years ago while serving as the BLESTO scout for the Bills, an advanced scouting service that gets heights, weights and 40 times on juniors the spring prior to their senior seasons.
“I saw him when I went to Bethel to look at a different kid,” said Hand now a regional scout for Buffalo. “At practice I saw this monster out there and he didn’t have any pads on. He was running around and he was really athletic, and I asked the coach I said, ‘Who is that kid?’ And he said, ‘Oh that’s Mike Jasper, he just got here a couple of weeks ago.’ And so I asked where his pads were and the coach said, ‘We don’t have any pads to fit him. We’re getting custom pads for him, but they’re not in yet.’”
Jasper had transferred to Bethel from Middle Tennessee State where he paid too much attention to his girlfriend and not enough to his studies. Prior to his year at MTSU he had a one year stint at Tennessee-Martin.
“I ended up playing two years at Bethel,” he said. “I sat out one year on academic probation because of the transfer. I started off on defense for them in a 3-4 but we had some issues on the offensive side of the ball. And coach asked me to switch over and I gladly did it. I started at guard for him for two years.”
Jasper’s size alone drew NFL scouts in 2009. His playing weight topped out at 448 pounds, but upon seeing him most scouts didn’t see an NFL future.
Instead of declaring for the draft after the 2009 season Jasper sought and was granted an additional year of college eligibility for the year he lost transferring. And that’s where as unlikely as it seems a 400-pound lineman fell through the cracks of 31 other NFL teams.
“This year I think most everybody forgot about him and I went back through there this fall to check him out and he told me a couple scouts had come through to see him and they all told him he had to lose 100 pounds to have a shot,” said Hand. “I think that overwhelmed him a little bit to lose 100 pounds. So his coach brought him in when I visited and we sat down and talked a while and I asked to get a weight on him. He said, ‘Yeah sure there’s only one problem, the scale here at the school can’t weigh me, I’m too big.’”
Jasper however, had a solution to that problem if Hand was willing to take a ride.
“I asked him, ‘What can we do?’ And he said, ‘We’ll go down to the feed store. That’s where you can weigh me,’” said Hand.
Hand offered to drive Jasper down to the local feed store, where they weigh pallets of bagged grain and corn feed, in his full-size pickup truck, but Jasper could not fit in the cab. Instead they took Jasper’s full-size Suburban.
“He was able to fit in that, and sitting next to him in that I’m pressed up against the passenger door,” said Hand. “If you’ve ever been in a full-size Suburban you know how roomy it is, but not with him in there. He’s a monster.”
At the feed store in McKenzie, Tennessee Jasper stepped on the scale.
Hand took note of the weight and the two returned to the vehicle for the ride back to campus. Knowing how affected Jasper was by the thought of losing 100 pounds based on the conversations he had with a couple of other NFL scouts, Hand offered a different proposition.
“I said, ‘Hey Mike I know everybody is telling you they want you to lose 100 pounds, but I’ll make a deal with you. If you can prove to us you’ll get under 400, get to 399 pounds I’ll talk to GM Buddy Nix and see if he’ll let me have a workout with you this spring.’”
Jasper agreed. Hand kept in touch with Jasper, who kept the Bills scout up to date on his progress. While the Bethel lineman got to work on his physique, Hand began the task of presenting his report to Bills Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak and General Manager Buddy Nix.
“It really wasn’t that tough to sell them because I had brought him up on the pre-draft meetings we had and shown a picture of him after he had started to cut down his weight,” said Hand. “He was 405 in the picture and I explained what was going on with him. When I went to Missouri with Buddy to watch Blaine Gabbert’s pro day I showed the workout video on Jasper’s website to Buddy and that’s when the ball really started rolling in pursuing him.”
Nix advised Hand to not go in to Bethel to work out Jasper until as late as possible as they wanted Jasper to be at his lightest so they could get the most accurate gauge of his athleticism at a proper playing weight.
The day before Buffalo’s final draft meetings Hand was back in Tennessee to conduct and film Jasper’s private workout.
The Bethel lineman had gone above and beyond shedding the necessary weight tipping the scales at 378 pounds.
“I did what they asked me to do,” said Jasper. “I weighed in at 448 pounds in January and it’s just been a lot of dedication and hard work. To be honest, just watch what you eat, drink water and treat your body right and it’s not that hard.”
After the workouts Hand left holding his head in both amazement and pain.
“He blew it up,” said Hand of Jasper’s workout. “Everything he did he crushed it. His vertical leap was 32 inches for me that day. He broad jumped 9’5”, benched pressed 34 times on the 225. He ran a 5.38 40 and did unbelievable in the shuttle.”
Jasper also excelled at position drills as he lined up as a nose tackle. At the workout there were no blocking sleds available, so Hand, who goes all of 5’10” and 210 pounds had to line up with a pad shield on his forearm which ran the length of his upper body for Jasper to hit.
“I put him in the position drills and he dominated those,” Hand said. “I put him through some nose tackle drills and we had to use hand shields and have him hit those. He only went 75 percent. I told him I didn’t want to end up on YouTube. We did some hitting in pads and stuff and I flew back about three and a half, four yards. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that everything went black for a minute and I saw those stars that you see when you take a shot. After a minute everything cleared up, but I woke up the next morning and I was still feeling it.”
Hand returned with video of the workout to Buffalo’s final meeting prior to the 2011 draft and Nix made the decision that some way they would acquire him.
“He dunks a basketball with both hands and his body fat is not real high,” said Nix. “He’s an exceptional athlete. We would’ve signed him as a free agent so we just drafted him and we’re going to see if we can see him play.”
What’s encouraging for the Bills is despite being a gigantic man Jasper does not have a sloppy build.
“When you think of a 400-pound guy you’re expecting to see some jiggly, overweight guy that’s not very athletic, but you see him in person and you wonder how he even looks like that,” said Hand. “There’s not much fat. He’s well put together and he’s got hands the size of footballs. It’s incredible.”
Add in that Jasper is smart in the classroom and football smart and Buffalo’s personnel department believes Jasper really has a chance.
“There’s no doubt there’s going to be an adjustment, but he’s ready to put in the work,” said Hand. “He’s going to be one of those in first, last out guys. He’s got that walk on mentality right now and can’t wait to get in the building and start hitting it.
“We’re grateful to have somebody on our roster like
Jasper played two years of guard at Bethel after playing defensive tackle at Middle Tennessee and Tennessee-Martin due to a shortage of talent on the offensive side of the ball. But nose tackle is where he feels at home.
“It’s me versus you,” said Jasper of playing nose tackle. “There’s no help really. You’ve got to beat your man, you’ve got to control your gap and you’ve got to do your job to be successful and I like that pressure. On offense there are a lot of double teams and a lot of help. On defense you’ve got to depend on yourself to do your job.”
And as for the opportunity, Jasper could not have been more excited to be the latest addition to the Bills.
“This is a blessing,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen. (The Bills) had the most interest, but for them to actually put it into action, it’s a big deal. It’s a dream come true and this is where I want to be, so I’m ecstatic man.”
For Hand the feeling is mutual. There’s very little for a scout to hang his hat on at the end of the year. Hand, like the rest of the Bills scouting department, kept grinding on a guy that he thought had a real chance to be find and was rewarded for it.
“It’s a scout’s dream come true to be honest with you,” he said. “You’re always trying to find that diamond in the rough or that sleeper and these days with Twitter and Facebook and e-mail and cell phones there’s no hiding guys anymore. It’s almost impossible. Credit Mr. Modrak and Buddy Nix who gave me a few ideas as to how to not let the cat out of the bag. Their veteran experience really helped me out.”