In a blue collar town like Buffalo, the football fans sometimes become a bit leery when a college prospect has west coast roots. They wonder if the player will fall into the 'laid back' California stereotype that exists out there.
That's why players like Jim Kelly, Shane Conlan, Fred Smerlas and Darryl Talley, who embodied the lunch pail mentality are the players that Bills fans relate to most.
Brian Cushing might not appear to be the same kind of hard-nosed player on the surface as some of the aforementioned Bills greats, but the Southern Cal linebacker and New Jersey native has a work ethic that's tough to match.
"You can ask anyone I know, I'm the hardest working guy on the team," said Cushing confidently.
And that hard work is definitely paying off. Cushing came to USC as a potential strong safety, but wound up starting as a freshman at linebacker. The position switching would continue his sophomore year and Cushing would adjust with aplomb lining up as a stand up defensive end in USC's 3-4 defensive set.
All Cushing did was lead the team in tackles for loss that season (13.5), while racking up four and a half sacks and a forced fumble. The talented defender also showed his special teams ability with a blocked punt and a kick return for a touchdown when he took an onsides attempt the other way for a 42-yard score. He capped his 2006 campaign with Rose Bowl Defensive MVP honors thanks to a seven tackle, 2.5 sack, forced fumble performance against Michigan.
His final two college season he manned USC's strong side linebacker position, but did fill in for injured middle linebacker Rey Maualuga further displaying his versatility. And it's that quality that is making Cushing a likely top 20 pick come late April.
"Brian Cushing, oh my," said NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis. "Do you want him to be an outside linebacker on the strong side? He can play that. He can play inside linebacker in a 3-4."
"I think I'm suited for every defense, because I've played (defensive end) in a 3-4, I've played (defensive end) in a 4-3, I've played (middle linebacker) in a 4-3, I've played SAM (strong side linebacker) in a 4-3 and WILL (weak side). So there's not one position that I felt I needed to play or one that I was out of position. The biggest thing to me was just taking care of business and playing anything. I feel I'm a natural linebacker with my best trait being just my instincts."
As natural a linebacker as Cushing might be many NFL scouts do feel he's strong enough to handle defensive end duties, at least on a part time basis at the pro level, especially after putting up 30 reps in the bench press at the combine.
"The kid is unafraid of anything, he's very instinctive," said Davis. "I love the way he plays. He will light you up. To me his best football is ahead of him."
There are some injury concerns about Cushing, who missed half his freshman season with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. He missed time his junior year with an ankle injury and then had knee surgery the following spring.
But his senior year his injury report was clean and after putting his strength (30 reps), speed (4.68 40 time) and explosiveness (10 foot broad jump) on display at the combine, NFL talent evaluators feel very good about the player that is widely viewed as the second best linebacker in the draft.
"He's had some injury issues," said Davis. "But when healthy he's one of the top guys out there."
And Cushing much like some of the other top talent from the Garden state, like Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Rutgers' Kenny Britt, is very proud of his east coast roots.
"That's real important to me," Cushing said. "It's a close-knit thing, it's special to us. It's a small state which most people overlook. We just try to go out there and prove to people what we're all about."
And what Cushing is about to be is a mid-first round pick.
*NFLDraftScout.com contributed to this story