Tashard Choice might be new to Bills fans, but he's awfully familiar to head coach Chan Gailey. The fourth-year running back played under Gailey at Georgia Tech for three seasons leading the ACC in rushing in 2006 and 2007. But Tech was not where Choice was first enrolled to play football.
Choice went to Oklahoma and after redshirting his freshman season served as the backup to Adrian Peterson. He only had 22 carries that year for 100 yards as the Sooners went all the way to the BCS title game. At the end of the season however, Choice's mother Rosa Hamm had fallen ill. The young tailback applied to the NCAA for a medical hardship so he could return home to take care of his mother and attend school closer to his Thomasville, Georgia home.
"He wanted to be home to take care of his mother, but he still wanted to play football and we were happy to make him a part of our team," said Gailey. "Even better was he didn't have to sit out a season as part of the hardship transfer process."
"Going to Georgia Tech I was just 10 or 15 minutes from the house," he said. "Getting back to Atlanta being closer to home and coming in I just performed right away."
Choice split time with P.J. Daniels in the Yellow Jackets backfield as the pair combined to average 150 rushing yards per game. His top performance came in an upset of the then #3 Miami Hurricanes as he had a hard-fought 84 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
With his mom again healthy and anointed the starter the following season Choice went on to lead all ACC rushers with 1,473 yards and 12 touchdowns. He repeated the feat with a 1,379-yard season with 10 touchdowns.
"Being home everything was getting better and then I had a chance to play and do really well in college," said Choice. "And once that happened it was like clockwork."
"He really was an amazing college player," said Gailey. "Very, very productive for us."
Buried on the Dallas Cowboys depth chart after they made him a fourth-round pick in 2008, Choice never got a great opportunity to show he could capably contribute. After injuries compromised his production this past preseason with the Cowboys, the club released him the last week in October.
Claimed on Halloween by the Redskins, he was waived less than a month later, but the circumstances in Buffalo led to his current opportunity. With Fred Jackson headed to injured reserve, the Bills claimed Choice off waivers Nov. 23rd. Four days later he was dressed and saw some spot duty against the Jets.
"I was amazed at how much he had retained of our system," said Gailey who uses a lot of the same terminology that he had at Tech. "He's really, really smart and that retention gave him an opportunity sooner rather than later with us."
Against the Titans in Week 13, Choice served as the team's short yardage back in the game plan. He converted a 3rd-and-1 and a 2nd-and-6 for first downs in the first half to keep two different possessions alive. Then in the fourth quarter he converted a 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 11, on Buffalo's late touchdown drive to make it a one score game late.
"He's quick, strong and aggressive," said Gailey. "He's a very good pass protector. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He plays bigger than you think. He's not tall, but he's 211 pounds and he's very strong."
"He did a good job for us," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "He came in for some of the third down stuff and whether it was running the ball, catching some screens or protecting in the pass game, he did a good job. It's not easy to come in and with his third team this year and bounce around in the middle of the season and come in and pick everything up. Luckily for him he had been with Chan before."
Choice's performance could earn him more time on the field down the stretch for the Bills. After spending time with three different NFL clubs this season Choice knows there might not be many chances left to make a good impression.
"I had to run with a purpose Sunday and that's how I am and finally being healthy is the main thing," he said. "I went from starting, to getting hurt, to bouncing around to a couple of places still injured. Now being healthy and being somewhere where I can go out and perform… I understand what they expect of me and they know what I do, which is play with all I've got. Now it's time to play."