When something that you love is taken away from you it can often be demoralizing. An ACL injury forced Bills linebacker Scott McKillop to miss what would have been his second and third NFL seasons after having a productive rookie year with the San Francisco 49ers in 2009. His passion for the game has driven him back to the NFL and provided him with a second chance that he is not taking for granted.
"With the injury I had in San Francisco it makes me appreciate the game more," said McKillop. "When you have something taken away not on your terms it opens your eyes and makes you appreciate the game that is being played. (I know) how lucky that I am to have the opportunity to play again."
McKillop was a very productive player in college at the University of Pittsburgh under then Head Coach Dave Wannstedt, who is currently the Bills defensive coordinator. He was a first team All-American and Big East Defensive Player of the Year his senior season. Coach Wannstedt values McKillop's physical attributes, but truly is marveled by his intelligence and passion for the game.
"He's smart, instinctive. He's not a yeller, screamer type," said Wannstedt. "He's a playmaker though and doesn't make mistakes. He's so smart. A playmaker that's very productive. Tough guy, physical, married to the game."
As a free agent McKillop had to weigh his options and determine where he would fit best. Undeniably the solid relationship with his former head coach factored into his decision to choose Buffalo.
"Yeah, there were a couple of teams interested. I just wanted to make the best decision for myself where I felt most comfortable with the coaching staff and a defense, so far so good, but you have to play. But, yes he definitely helped out a lot and I couldn't be happier to be here," McKillop said.
During his rookie season he was a very productive special teams player with the 49ers. He even recorded his first career touchdown by recovering a fumbled punt in the end zone. Special teams is an aspect of the game that he believes is commonly overlooked.
"There are three phases of football," said McKillop. "Usually, the team that wins two out of the three phases wins. So, a lot of people don't give enough credit to special teams. I take pride in that part of the game because that is where the hidden yardage is, that is where you can flip the field on a team. You need some head busters on special teams and that is one of the things I pride myself on is being one of the guys to go down there and set the tempo."
Not only did he gain valuable game experience with the 49ers, but he learned how to be a pro. McKillop was an understudy to two well respected veterans around the league in Jeff Ulbrich and former Buffalo Bill Takeo Spikes. He also played behind two soon-to-be All-Pro linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. While all of these teammates were great for him, Ulbrich really emerged as a mentor for the rookie McKillop.
"Yea, the biggest guy, I still stay in contact with right now because he is a coach at UCLA is Jeff Ulbrich," McKillop said. "That was his tenth year with San Francisco. He was a starter in the beginning of his career, but when Patrick Willis came and Takeo (Spikes) he went to special teams. He took me under his wing and helped me make a transition from college to the NFL lifestyle. Even though I do have two older brothers, I would say he is definitely another older brother that I have and he helped me out a lot."
Now, McKillop is focusing on a fresh opportunity with the Bills and that got underway at OTAs this past week. He is back on the field and has been working with the second grouping of linebackers thus far lining up at middle backer. The team's OTA practices have been vital for McKillop, who has not played football for two full seasons.
"Yeah, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little rusty," said McKillop. "Times like this at OTAs is where I am taking full advantage of taking the reps, mental reps and getting back in a football mind and football shape."
He has been anticipating this moment for the last two years and could not be happier about where he has landed.
"It is awesome; it's emotional, I couldn't be happier to be a Buffalo Bill and to get an opportunity to play," McKillop said. "I have heard a lot of positive things about the fans and how rowdy they are, so I am just excited to get an opportunity to put on the Bills uniform."