On that Saturday morning, the last day of draft, Locksley grabbed three things: his son Kai, who was a high school quarterback at the time, some soccer balls, and a boombox. He told Diggs to meet him at Maryland Stadium. They went down to the field. They turned on music. And for two hours they caught passports.

“That’s how he cleared his mind: exercise, catch balls, run routes,” said Locksley. “He had to work.”

There is no straight line from this practice session to Diggs ‘central role in Sunday’s AFC championship game because nothing in Diggs’ career was a straight line. He’s a Buffalo Bill when it seemed like the Minnesota Vikings should keep him and cherish him for his entire career. He could have gone to college anywhere, but stayed home to play in Maryland when such a decision was decidedly cold. The Terrapins were so injured at the quarterback as a newcomer that he ended the year getting passes from a converted linebacker. He broke his leg in his sophomore year, injured a kidney as a junior, but still turned pro – and had to wait to celebrate.

By the time it was the turn of the Vikings in the fifth round, 145 players had been selected. Eighteen of them were broad recipients. The Locksleys and Diggs didn’t hear anything from their impromptu training, so Diggs went home. The trainer and his son went to Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch. Finally Locksley’s phone rang: The Vikings had chosen Diggs.

“All I can remember is that the Vikings who know competitor Stef have no idea what they’re getting,” Locksley, now Maryland’s head coach, said this week. “Not only is he a great player, he also has a small chip on his shoulder. There are no 18 better receivers than this guy. But he had to show it. He had to prove himself, which he never really had to do before. “

The proof is in the movie every week, even deep in the playoffs. Nobody in the NFL caught more balls for more yards than Diggs during the regular season: 127 passes for 1,535 yards. Nobody caught more balls for more yards in the playoffs: 14 for 234 more yards in Buffalo’s two wins. Last year, Buffalo finished 24th overall and 26th in the pass in the NFL. This year, the bills took second and third place. Improving quarterback Josh Allen in his third year is a major factor. But Digg’s arrival changed what the Bills could do on the offensive.

And it started with a tweet in March when Diggs was still at Minnesota, which he had a tumultuous 2019 with. The Vikings decided to renew quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​for two more years – and another $ 66 million.

Diggs’ tweet that day: “It’s time to start over.”

After the draft he had it – in Buffalo with everyone. The Vikings received four draft picks, including a first-round player for 2020. The Bills got a seventh and the wide receiver that turned into a first-team all-pro. The deal didn’t just change the bills. It changed how Diggs felt about himself and about football.

“I’ve probably had some moments where I lightly touched it or thought about it lightly myself,” Diggs said on a Zoom call with reporters this week. “It’s just so weird; It’s not even in the same atmosphere as I was last year.

“I try not to get too involved in the past. I will definitely think about it when the season is over and I hope it isn’t over soon. I kind of pushed it into the background or pushed my thoughts about something like that into the background just to stay in the moment and enjoy the moment, because more importantly, I don’t want this moment to pass me by. ”

There’s an edge in the way Diggs plays and an edge in the way he thinks. The hour after he wrote what was perhaps the best game in Vikings history – Case Keenum’s 61-yard catch-and-run, when the time ran out to beat New Orleans in the post-2017 playoffs – he said: In fact: “Nobody really wanted half of the guys on this offensive. Late-round guys, guys with a chip on their shoulders with a lot to prove. “

That fits perfectly with Buffalo as a city and the Bills as a franchise. Before the Bills beat Indianapolis and Baltimore in those playoffs, their last postseason win came in 1995 when Jim Kelly was their quarterback and Andre Reed was their featured wideout. Since then, Buffalo has had nothing near this Hall of Fame couple. Until now.

“All I can say is that we are very similar,” Allen said in a joint interview with Diggs on NBC after defeating the Ravens. “We’re both hellishly competitive.”

That fits with the player Locksley recruited into College Park from Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md.

“That’s why he came to Maryland,” said Locksley. He said, ‘I don’t need Ohio State to validate. I’m a good player without Ohio State. ‘He always creates that little edge in himself. “

At about the time of the Buffalo deal, Locksley spoke to Bills’ offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, with whom he once shared coordinator duties in Alabama. Daboll had to know: what makes this guy tick?

“My opinion has always been that if he trusts you, and if you show loyalty and honesty to him, he will give you everything he has,” Locksley told his old colleague. “He’s a loyal, loyal boy, a loyal, loyal person. As long as the trust is there, he will work hard for you. “

Diggs clearly trusts All whom he called “the general” and “the man”. He trusts Daboll, who picked tracks that Diggs targeted 166 times, a career high. Most importantly, he trusts himself – just like he did when he bucked convention and went to Maryland, just as he did when he was put behind others, just as he did when he was starting over wanted to.

“Believe in yourself,” said Diggs. “That’s how I came here. This is how the deal happened. This is how it all happened: I believed in myself. I wanted more for myself and I feel like God had something on the other side. “

Five of the broad receivers taken before Diggs are from the NFL. No one has more than his 492 career receptions. And with the bills that only bring one Super Bowl victory, nobody lives that deep in the playoffs. Analyze the Bills Chiefs’ matchup in a thousand different ways. But doubt Stefon Diggs at your own risk.

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