Their bonds go way back to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia's Tidewater--Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and quarterback EJ Manuel. Smith has known Manuel ever since he was born. The former Bills defensive end grew up as a childhood friend of Manuel's father, Eric.
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"We've got a great deal of history, growing up together in Norfolk, Virginia," Smith told reporters by phone Friday. "We played little league sports together. His grandfather would coach us in a number of different sports. That's how this relationship was built. He lived one street over from me. It's just been a very blessed relationship, and one that I've cherished since the inception."
Smith watched Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft with an eye on where Manuel might be selected. And when the Bills called his name midway through the first round, Smith immediately got in touch with his son, Alston, who grew up as a friend of EJ's.
"I stuck around and watched the draft until EJ was selected," Smith said, "and then I immediately texted my son, who plays at Virginia Tech now. EJ and my son Alston are very good friends as well. His exact words were, 'This is crazy, Dad,' the fact that he's going to be going to the same team I played for, and all the history that was created there. "
As for the future, Smith believes Manuel has a bright one in the NFL with the Bills. He says Manuel is well positioned to become the face of the Bills franchise.
"I think with the right components, and the right systems, the right head coach, the right quarterback coach, the right teammates—he can be the one that's the face of this franchise. He's got all the tangibles, he's got the intangibles. This young man is perfect for this situation."
The goal, according to Bruce Smith, is a return to the top of the NFL for the Bills franchise. And he thinks Manuel just might be the quarterback to lead that resurgence.
"I think he's gonna do just fine," Smith said. "We just want to speed this process up so we can get the Bills back on their winning ways, and certainly back into the playoffs. Certainly, they've got a very talented defense. We need a franchise quarterback. And I am of the frame of mind that EJ can be that."