For many Buffalo Bills supporters, the reality of the last 10 years may have been harsh to view. There was one 9-7 season, a handful of 7-9 clubs, and no playoff appearances the entire decade for the four-time AFC Conference Champions. With new General Manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey at the helm, the Bills faithful are hoping that the franchise's recent struggles are on the upswing. One Bills rookie, who signed with the club following April's NFL Draft as a free agent, knows all about playing on a rebuilding football team.
Defensive back Dominique Harris, a three-year starter at the University of Temple, went from winning one game as a redshirt freshman in 2006, to winning nine games and a MAC East division title as a senior with the Owls last season. While the team did conquer seemingly insurmountable odds in just four short years, Harris said that it certainly was a difficult task.
"It was a struggle for the first couple years, very tough," he said. "At the end, it was very rewarding and pleasing."
In 2007, Temple finished with a 4-8 mark. All things considered, it was a modest three-win improvement from the previous season. Harris led the squad from the strong safety position with 81 tackles and five passes defended, to go along with three interceptions. The 2008 Owls campaign ended with a 5-7 record, with Harris posting another three interceptions as a team captain. Everything culminated in a 9-4 year under head coach Al Golden, in which Harris received The Owl Award as the school's most valuable player. Harris attributes a big part of the team's success to the maturity and growth that everyone experienced from start to finish.
"We were very young when we started out. We had to start from the bottom up, mature, gain leadership from certain people, we even had to get rid of some people," he said. "There were a lot of factors that went into it; everyone buying in to the program and what the coaches were telling us. Those were the big factors in our turnaround."
While there are less than 300 players selected in each NFL Draft, with hundreds of worthy players opting to go the undrafted free agent route or to another league to play professionally, many begin their careers fighting for a niche with a franchise. Harris said that he realizes he is essentially playing the role of an underdog, and that he will have to work extra hard to make his first NFL roster.
"Nothing is guaranteed to anybody, but (as a free agent) you are fighting for a spot on this team," he said. "(All I can do is) let them know that I know my playbook, work hard everyday, work hard on special teams, meet and greet everybody with a smile on my face and grind, very hard."
Given his firsthand experience on a team that turned its fortunes around in a very short period of time, Harris feels that he can supply valuable insight and perspective to his Bills teammates.
"I believe I can provide support to the leadership, and could definitely help lead if needed," Harris said. "I believe in everything the coaches say. I am a straight ahead guy."
Doug Majeski, coordinator of college scouting for the Bills, liked what he saw from Harris during his tenure as an Owl.
"The first thing that stands out about him is he's a great kid, two-time captain. He was a leader there and highly respected by the staff and the players," Majeski said. "He's a good tackler and does a good job playing downhill, and he's had good production in pass coverage with his interceptions and PBUs. Really a quality kid all around, and his size and playing ability will give him a chance to stand out."
Bringing a positive attitude and work ethic to the office every day, along with production on the field, Harris believes, will go a long way to help him earn a roster spot at the conclusion of training camp.
"I think it's a combination of everything, honestly," he said. "When you're personal with people, when you get to know them, when you talk to them, you have a better relationship with them. I think it's a correlation of everything, together."