By JONAH BRONSTEIN
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — Byron Mulkey was the last man standing on the practice field Thursday at the Buffalo Bills' fieldhouse.
"I gotta be," said Mulkey, the Niagara-Wheatfield graduate and former University at Buffalo basketball standout.
Mulkey, 24, has been invited for a second tryout with his hometown team. He participated in the Bills' rookie minicamp last spring, and was told afterward that he looked more comfortable than expected in his first football action in five years.
"Stay in shape and stay ready," the Bills told Mulkey. "If things work out, we can bring you back in and develop you."
Mulkey was one of 11 prospects invited to join the Bills veterans for this week's voluntary minicamp.
"The competition is obviously higher being with the vet guys," Mulkey said. "It's not free agents and rookies out here. It's all vets. So if I can hold my own and perform well, I have a better chance of staying around."
An all-Western New York quarterback and cornerback in high school, the 6-foot, 186-pound Mulkey is trying to catch on as a cornerback, where the Bills currently have a need after moving Aaron Williams to safety.
"I'm a tough critic," Mulkey said. "From the feedback I've gotten, there have been some technique issues here and there, but overall it's been pretty positive. But at the end of the day, there's always things on my mind that I could've done better. I'm trying to be as flawless as I can with my technique. That's where I need to get to to stay around."
Mulkey has spent most of the past year living in Atlanta, working as an academic mentor at Georgia State. He is pursuing a career in athletic administration and is no longer interested in playing basketball overseas after a brief experience in Morocco. But he said an offer to play in the Canadian or Arena football leagues would intrigue him.
"If the opportunity arises, I'm all for it," he said.
Training himself in Atlanta, Mulkey has reached out to contacts in the football world for strength and footwork workouts to follow. He rarely touches a basketball anymore, but that hasn't kept the Bills receivers from taunting him in practice.
"They keep reminding me that I am a basketball player," he said. "I've got that stigma with me when I'm on the field."
Mulkey's competitive nature has helped him overcome his relative lack of field experience.
"I've been away from it a while but I guess it's a little like riding a bike," he said. "It's a lot more fast-paced and detailed. But when I get on the field, I just compete."
A recruited walk-on at UB, Mulkey earned a scholarship after starting the final 10 games of his freshman year, and became the Bulls' top player in his redshirt senior season. That experience has given him confidence that he can beat the long odds to becoming a professional football player.
"It's worked before," he said, "Why can't it work again?"Follow Jonah on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lebronstein