Stay humble, Mr. Kaufman

By Josh Friesen, Sports Editor


A mere week before Brandon Kaufman was acquired as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills, he fried up teriyaki noodles at Rokko’s in Cheney.

As he splashed copious amounts of hot sauce into customers’ dishes and scattered chunks of chicken around in a pan, Kaufman chatted nonchalantly about which professional football teams were in contact with him. His NFL future days away, the 6-foot-5-inch wideout stood in the kitchen wearing a culinary hat and a black Rokko’s T-shirt, his biggest worry making sure he didn’t burn someone’s yakisoba.

He certainly didn’t look like someone about to earn his living playing a game.

While Kaufman will go down as one of the most dynamic receivers to don an Eastern football uniform, perhaps his legacy will be cemented as a humble playmaker who truly appreciated the university that gave the once injured high school senior a chance.

After Kaufman made the decision to forgo his senior season at Eastern and declare for the NFL draft, he expressed his gratitude toward the coaching staff who saw the player beyond the injury.

“This is the best place I’ve ever been,” he said. “Every single thing was a joy, and I can’t ask for anything more. I’m sure I could still give back to [the coaches] in more ways than I have so far.

At Heritage High School in Littleton, Colo., Kaufman earned All-State honors as a junior, and he was selected to the All-Continental League team twice. A future in football looked propitious for Kaufman, and he was beginning to field offers from multiple universities. But a torn ACL sustained at a football summer camp before his senior year forced him to sit out the entire season and silenced the calls and letters from once interested college football programs.

Eastern was one of the only schools in the country to continue to pursue the receiver despite his health concern. Instead of seeing Kaufman’s risk and potential liability, they saw his promise as someone who could take the top off the defense and snatch a football out of the sky at its highest point.

While Kaufman battled various health-related detriments throughout his collegiate career, when he was on the field, he was considered a top receiver in the Football Championship Subdivision.

A headache to gameplan around for opposing defensive coordinators, Kaufman had the ability to outleap virtually any defensive back. He used his large frame to split double coverages and utilized his gridiron acuity to find holes in zone schemes. He possessed soft hands and solid field-vision after he made a catch.

Kaufman found whole different gear throughout the 2012 FCS playoffs. He accounted for 174, 191 and 215 receiving yards against Wagner, Illinois State and Sam Houston State, respectively. He caught three touchdown passes in each of those final two games. His total of 600 postseason receiving yards was only 36 yards shy of NFL great Randy Moss’s FCS playoff record of 636. Had Eastern gone to the national championship, Kaufman probably would have blown that record away.

Despite numerous accolades and records, what may be just as impressive to NFL teams is the character he displayed while at Eastern. Character is a trait that may not be seen as glamorous as 40-yard dash times, bench press reps or vertical leaps, but it is something professional coaches value just as much — a badge of integrity.

Kaufman certainly has plenty of it, and if he stays true to the disposition he epitomized during his glory days as an Eagle, he should be just fine in the NFL.