By Tim Graham
PITTSFORD -- Football was something for Chris Gragg to do in rural Southeast Arkansas. His father was a football coach for whom Gragg would serve as a water boy until junior high.
Gragg blossomed into a pretty big deal in Warren, Ark., a town of bout 6,000 people. The school system there considers one hundred students a healthy class.
By his senior season, recruiting sites ranked him among the best receivers in the state. All he wanted from football at the time was a scholarship and a chance to keep playing on Saturdays.
"My goal was always to play college football," Gragg said. "I never really thought about playing in the NFL because I heard how hard it was and only the top one percentile get there."
By the end of his freshman season at the University of Arkansas, his objectives had changed.
"Once I saw that, 'Man, I'm kinda good,' I really got the confidence and said, 'I might as well go ahead and try to make it to the pros,' " Gragg said Wednesday after his fourth training-camp practice with the Buffalo Bills.
The seventh-round draft choice has agreed to share his rookie journey with BuffaloNews.com throughout training camp.
Gragg, one of five tight ends on the Bills' roster, has been impressive so far at St. John Fisher College. He has been making plays and drawing praise from his coach.
"I see someone with some good vertical speed," Bills coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "He can really get down the field quickly. He's someone that we can feel can be a mismatch at times at what we're doing.
"He's very smart and has done an excellent job in terms of the playbook and knows what to do. That's obviously the first concern when you're coming in and getting him to know it.
"I really like him. He's done a really good job. I like to see how he progresses as the physicality starts to step up as we work through this camp."
Gragg laughed when asked if football comes to him easily.
"I think it's going good," Gragg said. "I'm trying to progress every day. I'm learning things from the film that we're watching after practice. I'm trying to just get better and better every day.
"I'm going out and making less and less mental mistakes every day and making plays as they come."
He acknowledged it's sometimes difficult to be in the right alignment or proper stance. Marrone wants to run a rapid-paced offense, leaving little time for a rookie to figure out exactly what he's supposed to do from the time a play is called until the snap.
Gragg also admitted it's tempting to consider his place on the depth chart and wonder where he would be in the pecking order if the roster had to be trimmed to 53 right now.
That water boy has developed a little over the past decade.
He'll find out over the next few weeks whether or not he has what it takes to play in the NFL.
"Just the look that you get from your family and friends when you go back home and just how they treat you and how they tell you how much they're proud of you and looking forward to the football season," Gragg said about what they're thinking back home in Warren, Ark.
"I know they've seen the hard work I've put in throughout my life, and I know they'd be real proud."
He still has a lot more to prove. Teams must cut their rosters down to 75 players by Aug. 27 and down to 53 players by Aug. 31.
taggedChris Gragg | Chris Gragg Rookie Journal