Wednesday April 16, 2014

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Westerman, Charles provide Canadian content in Bills Toronto Series event

TORONTO - Jamaal Westerman knows all too well the price of fame for an NFL player coming home.

Westerman, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who grew up in Brampton, Ont., will play his third football game at Rogers Centre on Sunday when the Buffalo Bills host the Atlanta Falcons. Predictably, Westerman's phone has been ringing off the hook with ticket requests, including from people he hadn't heard from since high school.

"Oh yeah, this guy from ninth grade or that one from 10th grade," Westerman said with a chuckle following Buffalo's walkthrough Saturday. "I'm sure if I turned my phone on there'd be some even now.

"But it's always good to have support and just be a role model for guys who might one day have aspirations to play collegiately in the U.S., in the NFL or CFL. Football has grown here and we've seen many guys come out and play in the CFL and NFL so I'm definitely excited by that."

Westerman has had to dig deep, even limiting requests to family and close friends. The average ticket price for Sunday's game is $99 and Westerman's personal cheering section will be 30-plus strong.

"My teammates did a great job of helping me out but I still had to ante up," Westerman said. "But I feel so blessed to be able to play this long and get the chance to play up here and give back to family and friends."

Westerman is one of two Canadians on the Bills' roster. The other is rookie defensive lineman Stefan Charles, a native of Oshawa, Ont., who great up in Toronto. Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff also grew up in Guelph, Ont., and played at the University of Guelph.

Westerman's first appearance at Rogers Centre came in '08 with Rutgers when the Scarlet Knights downed Ball State 52-30 in the now-defunct International Bowl. He returned in '09 as a rookie with the Jets, who beat Buffalo 19-13 in the second year of the Bills Toronto Series.

Westerman, 28, joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent and spent three years in New York before being released. The six-foot-three, 260-pound Westerman played for Miami, Arizona and Indianapolis last year before signing with Buffalo on Aug. 14.

"There have been ups and downs, ins and outs," Westerman said. "But the biggest thing is continuing to be a professional and continuing to work hard.

"It's cliche but you really have to come in every day knowing tomorrow isn't promised and sometimes you lose sight of that because you get into a routine. But you have to work hard and prepare your butt off because you never know when your last game will be to injury, to numbers and being released or cut, or to being traded. When you do, most times good things will happen."

And that includes sometimes being a mentor to a fellow Canadian in his first NFL season who's still learning the ropes in pro football. After playing collegiately at Regina, Charles joined the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent and was on their practice roster before Buffalo added him to their 53-man roster last month.

"He's been with Tennessee this year so it's not like it's his first day off the plane, he knows what he's doing," Westerman said of Charles. "I've helped him any way he's needed, be it how to study, or with this being my fifth year in this defence now to prepare or even where to eat.

"He's a pro, he's working hard every day and you can see him improve. He's doing a good job of taking things from the practice field to game day."

Charles is living out his dream. The 25-year-old grew up a Bills fan and the first football jersey he bought growing up was one with the No. 21 worn by former Buffalo running back Willis McGahee.

"I can't even put it into words, I really can't," Charles said about what playing in an NFL game in Toronto means to him. "I'm just happy to be here and happy to be able to play in this city."

Charles has three tackles in three games with the Bills. The six-foot-five, 323-pound Charles was the No. 2-ranked prospect for this year's CFL draft and despite signing with Tennessee beforehand, was a second-round pick of the Edmonton Eskimos.

Charles has always said he'd be proud to play in the CFL but adds the NFL is an itch he has to scratch.

"Football is a test of your will," Charles said. "I had a goal I really wanted to get to so I just kept working at it and working at it and God put me in the situation I'm in so I'm thankful for that.

"Nothing worth having is going to come easy. I'm just happy I got recognized and was able to get the opportunity. I couldn't ask for anything more, I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Charles said his transition to the pro game hasn't been overwhelming, adding he's making the typical adjustments rookies usually have to.

"Just the speed of the game and working on technique," he said. "Just me as a player trying to mature into the league.

"It will come over time."


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