Professional football: Buckman eyes OL spot after Jets sign him


OL Keith Buckman
Former North Dakota State offensive lineman Keith Buckman. Forum file photo

DICKINSON, N.D. - Matthew Buckman will be short a groomsman in his wedding Saturday.

That's because his older brother, Keith, will be busy trying to land a new full-time job - with the New York Jets.

Keith Buckman, a 2005 Belfield (N.D.) High School graduate and a four-year standout offensive lineman at North Dakota State, agreed to sign a free-agent contract with the Jets on Saturday following the NFL draft.

He leaves Fargo on Thursday morning for the Jets' rookie minicamp in East Rutherford, N.J., and returns Sunday.

"It's a dream come true," said Nell Buckman, Keith's mother.


Buckman, already the first person from Belfield to play a Division I sport, will become the first professional athlete from the town of just over 800 people when he signs his free-agent contract later this week.

"It wasn't easy, I know that," Buckman said with a laugh.

Buckman, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 320 pounds, came to NDSU unheralded, untested and raw.

That didn't seem to matter though. In his career, he started 33 of 44 games and was an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team selection this season. He moved from tackle to guard as a senior.

With Buckman and his linemen paving the way for All-American running back Pat Paschall, who signed a free-agent contact with the New England Patriots, the Bison ranked first in the MVFC in rushing offense (210.2 yards per game).

Buckman said he received a call from the Jets during the sixth round of the draft. Jets officials told him they were prepared to sign him to a free-agent contact if he went undrafted.

"It was nice getting that call, just because I didn't have to worry about the whole sixth and seventh rounds," Buckman said. "I figured I had a spot to go. It was a big relief."

However, the Jets had a little competition.


Immediately after the draft, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Casey Bradley, a former NDSU assistant, called Buckman to ask if he wanted sign with the Seahawks as a right tackle.

Buckman said he politely told Bradley thanks, but no thanks since the Jets were likely his best chance to make it in the NFL.

Buckman worked out for the Jets during NDSU's pro day in early March and got a good vibe.

"They kept in touch," Buckman said. "They told us they were interested, so that was nice."

Buckman is the second ex-NDSU player from the area to sign a free-agent contract with the Jets. In 2007, former Dickinson Trinity standout Kyle Steffes signed with the Jets after going undrafted and made it two months before the team waived him.

If Buckman makes the team and advances to training camp, he could be in for a wild ride.

First, the HBO documentary series "Hard Knocks" will follow the Jets during their preseason. Historically the series, which chronicles NFL teams during their preseason, has kept a keen eye on undrafted free agents fighting for positions - especially those with backgrounds as interesting as Buckman.

Second, if he makes the 53-man roster, or even the practice squad, Buckman will be a part of a Jets team that moves into state-of-the-art Meadowlands Stadium this season.


Lastly, some keen offseason moves have made the Jets, who lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game last season, an early favorite to contend for the Super Bowl.

Buckman's chances of making the team in some form may not be as slim as it might seem either since the Jets have some holes to fill on the offensive line.

They drafted tackle Vladamir Ducasse of Massachusetts in the second round and are reportedly signing Texas guard Charlie Tanner.

Buckman said he doesn't yet know what position the Jets want him to play, but added he's just happy to have the opportunity.

"I worked five years for it," Buckman said. "I had great coaches (at NDSU) that really helped a lot. It pretty much all fell together."

Dustin Monke is a writer for the Dickinson Press, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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