When he went down with a knee injury suffered in the first game of his senior campaign at Virginia Tech, it affected his stock so much that he wasn't even selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. But cornerback Stephan Virgil was given his opportunity, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills – after a host of teams passed him up.
He played with the injury last year, still offering up stingy defense in the Hokies' secondary. En route to helping Tech finish 10-3 (6-2 in ACC play) last year, Virgil recorded 36 tackles in 10 games, proving himself a valuable and experienced corner even after being hobbled.
The fact he had his knee cleaned out during an offseason arthroscopic surgery, unfortunately, did very little to help his cause. Virgil was able to participate in pre-draft workouts, but he was not prepared physically. His marks, which were everything but his best, displayed that.
But just as the Bills offered him a shot, Virgil is willing to offer the best he's got in trying to make the roster.
"It really wasn't a big surgery," Virgil said during the Bills' rookie minicamp last weekend. "I just had everything cleaned out. It feels great. I've been working out with my trainer in Virginia. He's putting me through some pretty intensive workouts, so I feel great. I feel back to 100 percent."
While the soft tissue damaged during an arthroscopic surgery often takes well over a month to fully heal, the road back to full health sometimes takes longer. A player may feel at the top of his game shortly after the procedure, but in actuality the clichéd "100 percent" comes further down the road.
But Virgil insists he's comfortable giving him the confidence that he can play at his best.
"I've just got to get comfortable and relaxed," he said. "And that'll come with time. Once I get comfortable and relaxed, I can slow my tempo down. A lot of the trouble at the NFL level is getting the game to slow down for you. I can do that, I've just got to take my time, relax and be patient."
So as Virgil attempts to slow the game down through his work on the practice field, a thought remains in the back of his mind. He admits he's better than the dismissive game tape from his injury-riddled senior campaign, and he's excited to prove those who discounted him wrong.
"I'm very eager. The only way I can go is up right now," Virgil said. "I'm going to get better, but I've got to work. I need to keep my head in my playbook, put it in my mind and start bringing that out to the field and start making plays.
"A lot of teams passed up on me but one team didn't. The Buffalo Bills came and got me. I need to work hard and just be a competitor every day. You've got to go out and prove yourself. I always come out with a chip on my shoulder every day."
Virgil is projected to be a nickel cornerback. With that billing, he will find himself covering the slot receiver. He wasn't given that task too often at his alma mater, but he knows he can get the job done.
"I feel pretty good covering the slot receiver," he said. "I feel like I can cover anybody and everybody. Once I get comfortable with my playbook, and when that comes along, it'll be great.
"(In college) I didn't play the nickel that much. Whenever we played, I was just a corner. It would be a pretty new thing."
Should they both make the team, Virginia Tech teammate Ed Wang would join Virgil on the Bills roster this season. Having played with Virgil for four seasons, the 6-5, 301-pound offensive tackle can speak to the corner's work ethic.
"He's a tough guy, so I'm pretty sure he can come back," Wang admitted. "He works really hard. I played with him for my entire career at Virginia Tech. He was always one of the hardest workers on the team."
Until the offseason workouts start going full-tilt, though, Virgil can only wait for the opportunity to prove himself. He knows his ability well, but he believes his best body of work is yet to come.
"My confidence right now, it's pretty high," said Virgil. "I feel pretty good, but I've still got a lot of work to do."