Christian Wade said during training camp last year that his NFL knowledge was at a four year-old’s level.
And this year?
“Five?” Wade says with a laugh.
Don’t be mistaken. That number is more humble than bumble. Wade is a football player this year. “Rather than standing out like a sore thumb,” he adds.
After a season learning the game and living on the scout team, Wade is now very comfortable on a football field. The former rugby star is starting to see the spots where his natural speed and footwork can cause problems. He can start to see a role for himself.
“Last year, I kinda made it obvious that I didn’t have any clue what’s going on,” Wade said. “Now that I’m understanding what to do, I can get a bit more loose out there. Before, I would be a bit more stiff and thinking so much.”
Wade almost never made it back for year two in Buffalo.
After last season, he traveled the country a bit. Wade went to San Diego, Los Angeles and saw the Super Bowl in Miami. From there, he went back home to England. This was early March.
Not two weeks into his first return home since before the 2019 season, Covid-19 hit America hard. Wade and his family were out to dinner when the NBA shut down. Soon after, President Trump started closing borders.
Wade realized he might need a quick escape. So did the Bills.
“We were already on the case that we need to get back before they close the borders,” Wade said. “My (running backs) coach (Kelly Skipper) called me and was like, ‘Where you at?’ I was like, ‘I’m in London, coach’. He said ‘You need to get your ass on a plane like asap. You want to get over here because we’re not sure if you’ll be able to get in the country if this goes sideways.”
It was tough to say goodbye to family after just ten days at home, but Wade got across the Atlantic to Florida. He started training where his NFL journey began at the IMG Academy, but it was quickly shut down. Wade next went to New York City which, of course, quickly became the worst place for an athlete trying to avoid coronavirus.
Wade bolted for the relative safety of Buffalo, but found a new problem: how to stay in shape. NFL facilities were off limits. He had no workout equipment at home. “Not even any cones,” he said.
At first, he was limited to lunges, sit-ups and squats. Eventually, the Bills got him some resistance bands to expand his workouts. Wade would put bottles down and run sprints in the park. The hills of Chestnut Ridge became a popular spot. His fiance’s family (she’s from Queens, NY) would go on the runs with him.
“I was kind of keeping the family in shape,” Wade said.
Wade is more comfortable in his second go-round at Bills training camp. All the scout team reps gave him experience in various situations. He’s no longer stuck on diagrams and instruction sheets. He knows the playbook and thinks coaches just want to see if he can execute.
At the very least, “the guys aren’t making fun of me as much as they did last year,” he said with a laugh.
No one made fun of what Wade did last preseason. A 65-yard touchdown run on his first touch in the exhibition opener was followed by a multi-tackle breaking 48 yard catch and run week two.
Unfortunately, there will be no preseason games this year. Wade called it a “bit of a blow” to his plans for 2020. There are still ways he can impress coaches.
“Showing them that I actually understand what I’m doing this year,” Wade said. “Even just trying to be vocal, speaking to quarterbacks. Showing that I understand what I’m trying to do to help them with routes or clearing coverage out.”
The good news is that Wade still has no pressure to win a roster spot. The NFL’s International Pathway program gives him another full year to be an extra player on the practice squad. Wade says Buffalo is the best place in the NFL to learn.
“The environment is made for that. Everybody’s approachable. I feel blessed to be here,” Wade said. “Just to be in the building another year would be awesome for me. Making the team would be an extra bonus. As long as I’m here, I’m in a good place.”
Wade is still confident he can play in the NFL, even if it takes another 12 months of “school” in Buffalo.
He knows there’s still football growing up to do.