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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Former Oregon State star excels at safety, gets first taste of NFL playoffs

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jordan Poyer makes a return for Oregon State in a 2012 game against Wisconsin.It has been a whirlwind last month for Jordan Poyer of the Buffalo Bills.

On Dec. 13, the Astoria native and Oregon State grad was named recipient of the Bills' Ed Block Courage Award this season, for the player who exemplifies a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

On Dec. 24, the 6-foot, 190-pound safety scored on a pick-six off Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Tom Brady in New England's 37-16 victory over the Bills.

On Wednesday, Poyer was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December.

On Sunday at Jacksonville, Poyer got his first taste of the postseason — in Buffalo's first playoff game since 1999 — when the Bills fell to the Jaguars 10-3 in wild-card action. His parents, Faalaeo and Julie Poyer, and brother Jeramy flew in from Oregon for the game.

"This whole month has been crazy with emotions," Poyer says in an interview from Buffalo.

There is more to come. On Feb. 17, Poyer and Instagram model Rachel Bush will wed in Jamaica.

They are parents of a 1-year-old girl, Aliyah.

"It's been fun being a dad," Poyer says. "Aliyah is getting big. She's been walking since she was eight months old."

It has been a breakout season for Poyer, 26, whose career seemed in jeopardy when he sustained a lacerated kidney playing for Cleveland in a game in October 2016.

Poyer had finally become a full-time starter for the Browns in his fourth year in the NFL. In their sixth game of the season, he was felled by an illegal peel-back block from Tennessee's Antonio Andrews while covering a punt return.

It was a serious injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Poyer said doctors told him that if the injury been a half an inch either way, it could have been life-threatening.POYER

Poyer's concern about his future wasn't as much about the injury as it was how it would be perceived by NFL brass.

"I knew once I'd healed, I'd be physically and emotionally able to play again," he says. "But I didn't know if I'd get the opportunity. I didn't know if a team would take a chance on me after the injury."

By last March, Poyer was healthy and received a one-year offer to stay with the Browns. The previous month, the Bills had hired Bobby Babich as assistant secondary coach. Babich had served in the same capacity the previous three seasons in Cleveland.

At Babich's urging, the Bills signed Poyer to a four-year contract. Ten months later, Poyer is thanking his lucky stars he did.

"It has been a dream come true," he says. "I couldn't have come into a better opportunity. I have great teammates around me. I'm so happy to be a part of this organization."

The AFC Defensive Player of the Month award "was a pretty cool honor," he says.

Poyer's first NFL touchdown — a 19-yard return of a Brady aerial — "was almost surreal," he says. "But I wish we could have won the game."

Poyer was touched that his teammates voted him as the Bills' Ed Block Award winner.

"I didn't see that coming," he says. "A lot of blessings have come my way."

The biggest blessing, Poyer says, is the Bills' postseason visit to Jacksonville.

"It will be the biggest game I've ever played in," he says. "It will be a fun atmosphere — more fun if we win. I'm excited for this organization and for our fans, who welcomed me with open arms."

Poyer ranks second on the Bills with 95 tackles to go with five interceptions, 13 pass deflections, two sacks and a 32-yard fumble return.

"Jordan is a complete player," Buffalo coach Sean McDermott told reporters near the end of the regular season. "I love his toughness. He's a scrappy player, puts a lot of time in terms of preparation. He's also an instinct player. I couldn't say more about the way he has played."

Some think selectors got the wrong Buffalo safety when they chose Micah Hyde for his first Pro Bowl appearance.

"I was happy for Micah," Poyer says. "It would have been nice (to make the Pro Bowl), but there were a lot of great players who didn't make it, either. It gives me more motivation to work even harder during the next offseason."

Poyer fought long odds to make it to the NFL.

Perhaps the greatest all-around athlete in Astoria High history, Poyer earned 11 letters in football, basketball and baseball. In football, he quarterbacked Astoria to a 14-0 record and the Oregon School Activities Association Class 4A championship as a senior. In basketball, he was Cowapa League player of the year as a senior. In baseball, he was a three-time all-state player who pitched the Fishermen to the state title as a freshman.

Even so, Poyer had only one FBS football scholarship offer — from Idaho — until Oregon State came in late, in December of his senior year. Even that had a catch.

"Our original thought was he would grayshirt, because we were full up on scholarships with that group," says OSU assistant head coach Mike Riley, who was head coach of the Beavers during Poyer's career (2009-12). "We really liked him. He'd been in our summer camp twice, and I was intrigued by his potential. But it took a long time for us to pull the trigger."

A letter from Jordan's mother, Julie Poyer, sealed the deal.

"She made the point that this young man would accomplish whatever he set his mind to do," Riley says, chuckling at the memory. "Now, all parents have special feelings about their kids. But her letter impacted me. I love multi-sport kids, and I liked Jordan and his family. I went in and told our coaches, 'We're going to offer the kid.'"

One of the OSU recruits that year failed to qualify academically, so Poyer was invited to August training camp.

"I thought he'd be a developmental guy who would redshirt," Riley recalls. "But he played so well, he made an immediate impact. We couldn't keep him off the field."

Poyer was a special-teams standout as a true freshman, the Beavers' third cornerback as a sophomore and a two-year starter, as a senior becoming the school's first concensus All-American since center John Didion in 1968.

Riley says Poyer was as competitive as any player he coached at the college level.

"He is also one of the most instinctive players I've been around," Riley says. "He plays at a whole different level of football IQ. He sees things other players don't see."

Not particularly big or fast, Poyer wasn't taken until the seventh round by Philadelphia in the 2013 draft. He made the team but was waived by the Eagles at midseason as a rookie, then picked up by the Browns, who switched him from corner to safety. He played special teams and returned eight punts for a 14.3-yard average in the final nine games that year.

Poyer was a backup in Cleveland in 2014, then started four games with the Browns in 2015 before becoming a full-time starter a year ago. After the injury, he landed in Buffalo, and the sun and moon were suddenly aligned.

"Boy, it was a great decision to sign him," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier told the media last week. "He has really stepped up like we were hoping he would."

Poyer loves the Bills, appreciates their followers and says he can handle the frigid winter weather.

"It took me a little while to warm up to it, even though it's negative-2 degrees right now," he says with a laugh. "I'm trying to stay warm. But the city is awesome, and the fans are crazy good. They love their Bills. Everybody has been saying 'congratulations' to me all week."

After the season, though, Poyer and his family will settle in the much warmer climes of Miami, where he bought a house last summer.

"I love the heat," he says. "The first time I flew to Miami, I thought, 'Why have I not been here before?' It's paradise. Good shopping areas, good restaurants. We're right next to the beach. I'm just starting to get into fishing.

"I've spent the last two offseasons down there, renting a condo. It's a great place to train — good facilities, and a lot of players to train with. I'm looking forward to getting down there after this season to relax a little bit."

Poyer says he hasn't been back to Corvallis for a game in several years but has followed the OSU program from afar. He is pleased with the hire of head coach Jonathan Smith and excited that Riley has returned to be his right-hand man.

"Coach Riley is everything that program is about," Poyer says. "He is a key part to their success in the past, and hopefully the future. I'm grateful for the time I spent with him and the other coaches — (Mark) Banker, (Trent) Bray, (Rod) Perry, (Keith) Heyward. All those guys taught me a lot of football. With (Smith) and Coach Riley, the program is in good hands.

"Oregon State will always be in my heart. Getting back to a game is on my bucket list."

Poyer will be welcomed back by his old coach when he does return.

"I'm so excited for Jordan, and so proud of him," Riley says. "He's just a great story. He always had confidence he could play with anybody at any level, so he doesn't consider himself a 'story,' I'm sure. But he's one of those guys who was under-recruited and turned out to be not just a good player, but a great one. I like that kind of story."

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