BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gerhard de Beer played all sports growing up in South Africa, but wasn't introduced to football until a little later.
"I was about 10-11 years old," he says. "A buddy of mine was playing on his Playstation and we were playing Madden."
De Beer was intrigued by football, but he made a name for himself with discus. De Beer set U-16 and U-18 national records in South Africa and earned bronze at the 2012 World Junior Championships. American universities were interested in having de Beer throw discus, but he wanted to play multiple sports.
"I got recruited by Nebraksa," he remembers. "The coach at the time Karen Lane. She showed me a birdseye view of the campus and I said 'Wow that's a big stadium. Do we get to compete in it?' she said 'No, that's only for football.' and I said 'Oh that's cool. Can I try that out?' She told me no, so my curiosity was well is there any possibilty that some schools might let me play? So that's when I started asking all the coaches who recruited me to let me play football for them and one-by-one they told me no."
Arizona said yes -- de Beer walked onto the Wildcats football team and switched to discus in the spring. The double-duty went on for three years; de Beer won a PAC-12 championship in 2015 and took home a fourth-place finish at nationals in 2016.
"It's hard to say should've, could've, would've, especially in a sport like discus because I don't know how I still would've developed, but if I continued to develop the way I did I think it's possible that I could be in the next Olympics," he says.
Yet with that in mind, de Beer decided to throw everything he had into just football his senior year.
"I can always pick up a discus and get some attention by throwing again, but I can never come back to football," he says. "There are a handful of guys that sit out a year out of football and come back to it at all, nevermind be successful at it. So I thought that if there ever was an opportunity to play football, this is it."
Now he has an opportunity with the Bills as an undrafted free agent. De Beer fully understands his untapped potential -- as well as how that doesn't always matter in the NFL.
"The problem is with all this time that I need to develop, teams might not have that patience. So that's why I need to do more than the guy next to me to develop myself more and it's very hard to do that when you're not going up against somebody. There's no replacement for experience. Everything I need to do needs to become second nature. It needs to be so easy to do that way that I don't think about it because a lot of these OTAs and Minicamp and things, I had to think about stuff because I need to think about my assignment. The assignment is a lot more important than coming off the ball, I think, because if you can't learn the playbook why would they trust you on the field if you're a physical guy. Physicality is easy to add to it once you know what you're doing," he says.
De Beer's seen other success stories similar to his -- Estonian discus thrower Margus Hunt was a second-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2013. Now he's trying to follow the same path so others can take it as well.
"I hope my story inspires some people to try harder, do more," he says. "And I hope my story helps people to get there too and to show people that there is a way no matter what anyone else tells you. And it's difficult. Even for me, if I do fail at the NFL then I would know that I gave it my all."