Jimmy Gaines is a native of Buffalo, and played at nearby Canisius High School. But when he went undrafted, he had no indication that his hometown NFL team had any interest in him.
“I really wasn’t in too much contact with Buffalo during that process,” said Gaines. “Once the draft ended, I got a call from my agent telling me that Buffalo was interested in signing me. That was an amazing feeling, just being able to come back home.”
It’s been a long trip for Gaines to return back to the Buffalo area, as he was a star for Canisius, playing linebacker, safety, tight end, tailback and receiver in his senior season. He came to the University of Miami in 2010 as a small 6’2”, 215 pounder who had some room to grow, and came out as a well-built, 6’3”, 240 pound linebacker who shows the versatility to play multiple roles and positions.
Gaines started 27 games at the University of Miami, with 13 of them being this past season, all of them at the middle linebacker spot with 83 tackles and two fumble recoveries. With Gaines putting on 25 pounds since he began playing for the Hurricanes, he was named the Strength Training Athlete of the year for Miami.
Gaines’ improvement from year t0 year as a player coincided with the Hurricanes’ advancement, as they went from 7-6 his freshman season to 9-4 as a senior. Gaines enjoyed helping the once-vaunted University of Miami football program re-establish itself.
“It was a great experience,” said Gaines. “The guys at Miami really want to be great. It wasn’t very hard to help those guys achieve greatness and to try to turn that program around from where it was before. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to do that.”
Gaines told me that “it’s been cool” to begin his NFL journey in Buffalo, as he has seen “a lot of guys from Canisius” attend practices.
“It’s been cool. A lot of guys from Canisius that have came out to the practices. It’s pretty much a homecoming for me, so it’s a great feeling.”
Gaines was listed as the third-string outside linebacker on July 28, and got his first NFL action in the Hall of Fame game on Sunday, getting two tackles. Gaines called the experience “amazing”.
“Having the opportunity to play in my first NFL game, it was a dream come true,” said Gaines. “I’m just glad I was able to do a couple good things but there are things I still have to clean up, too.”
With the injury to Kiko Alonso, the Bills’ linebacker core has undergone a lot of experimentation with players taking turns playing at different positions. Under that difficult scenario, Gaines has very much appreciated the guidance from linebacker coach Fred Pagac and the veteran players at his position.
“Coach Po, he’s a great coach,” said Gaines. “He’s a great football mind. I try to take as much from him as I possibly can. And the experience of a guy like Brandon Spikes, and Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham, those guys have really helped me out in the transition just understanding the playbook and understanding little details within the game.”
The rookie linebacker’s work ethic and film study were profiled during Gaines’ senior year at Miami by 247sports.com’s Christopher Stock:
Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onforio has a message to his players that has resonated with Gaines.
“When you’re done learning, you’re done,” D’Onofrio says.
“That’s what I’ve tried to continue to do since I’ve been here,” Gaines said. “I try to always work on my deficiencies. I’m working. I’m never complacent with where I am like right now. I’m not satisfied with where I am. I want to improve and get better every day. Every day you’re either getting better or worse. You’re never the same. I try to get better. Once you feel like, ‘Oh I know it’ or ‘I got it’, then what’s when you start messing up like Kansas State for me.”
Even though he has 31 games under his belt, he’s continued to take the same amount of notes as he did as a freshman preparing for his debut.
“I’ve always taken a lot of notes,” Gaines said. “I did it because that’s how I learn. I learn better if I just go over it and keep writing it down so I don’t try to keep anything to memory. If I forget something I wrote it down and I’ll check my notes. That keeps me up-to-date with my assignments and what I’m supposed to do.”
Gaines has brought along that willingness to study to his first stop in the pro game.
“Take the same approach to every meeting,” said Gaines. “Make sure I have a notebook, pen, and paper, be ready to write and to takedown whatever details that need to be taken down.”
Gaines said he is willing to play “whatever role” they need him to, whether it is at linebacker, special teams, or both.
“Whatever I can do to help this team, that’s what I would like to do,” said Gaines.
Off the field, Gaines is a big Los Angeles Lakers fan due to Kobe Bryant being his favorite player, with teammates giving him “a little stuff” about their struggles, but “all in good fun”. Gaines also sang in a church choir and for teammates at Miami, according to Stock, though he laughed and said nobody with the Bills has asked him to sing.
Though he has other interests and skills, Gaines very much wants to be a Buffalo Bill.
“It would mean a whole lot to me,” Gaines said of making the team’s roster. “Just like I said, it’s a dream come true. Just trying to make the most of every opportunity I get every day, and hopefully at the end of the day I’ll make the team.”
Gaines has both the work ethic and talent to make it in the NFL. But whether a deep linebacker depth chart will stop him in his attempts to do so for Buffalo has yet to be answered.