Sal Maiorana and Leo Roth look at the Jordan Poyer factor heading into the Sunday’s game against Denver. (Sept. 21, 2017)
Sal Maiorana, Leo Roth, Virginia Butler
ORCHARD PARK – Jordan Poyer is a proud native of Astoria, Oregon. So proud that he eagerly, without prompting, pulls out his iPhone, taps on the Maps app, and shows you exactly where it is.
“Great place to live; I love my hometown,” Poyer said the other day as he sat in front of his cubicle in the Buffalo Bills locker room, a popular space for reporters these days given the way the 26-year-old safety has played in his first two games with the team.
Founded in 1811, Astoria is reputedly the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, and explorers Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 there during their historic expedition to chart the Pacific territory under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson.
Located about 100 miles west of Portland, it sits near the mouth of the Columbia River which leads out to the Pacific Ocean, so you understand why it was the ideal location to film the movie Free Willy, not to mention Free Willy 2, The Goonies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Kindergarten Cop, and a few others. Further, Academy Award-winning actor Clark Gable began learning his craft working at the Astoria Theater.
For a tiny little place, population of about 10,000, Astoria has played host to some real star power, and Poyer – the hometown kid – has designs on adding to the picturesque port city’s legacy.
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He’s already a local hero, having played football, baseball and basketball while earning 11 varsity letters for Astoria High School. He quarterbacked the Fishermen to an Oregon 4-A state championship in 2008, earning state offensive and defensive player of the year honors. As an outfielder/pitcher, he also led the baseball team to a state title and the Miami Marlins picked him in the 42nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.
“One of the reasons I went so low is my sign-ability wasn’t that high because I wanted to go to school,” Poyer said. “I could have gone anywhere from the seventh to the 12th round (the scouts) were saying, but I told them when I met with them, I really wanted to go to school.”
That’s because Oregon State, three hours south of Astoria in Corvalis, had given him his lone legitimate Division I-A football scholarship offer, and it also agreed to allow him to play for its baseball team. Football was his first love, but he wasn’t sure if he had a future in the NFL, so continuing his baseball career made sense because there was a chance he could get drafted again.
“I could hit the ball pretty well, had a strong arm in the outfield, could chase fly balls,” said Poyer, who played for the Beavers alongside current New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. “It was a game I was a natural at, but it was a hard decision to choose between the two.”
Ultimately, he gave up his final two years of baseball eligibility to focus on football, a game first taught to him by his stepfather, Fa’alaeo Poyer, a former tight end at Eastern New Mexico who helped found Astoria’s youth football program in 1999 along with the high school team’s coach, Howard Rub.
At Oregon State, Poyer played four years and accumulated 13 interceptions, 153 tackles and 2 forced fumbles and in his senior season, his seven picks helped the Beavers to a 9-4 record and a final ranking of 20th in the Associated Press poll.
Heading into the NFL Draft, Poyer did not have a great scouting combine workout, and while it was clear he was smart and tough, his speed was average and his size (6-foot, 190 pounds) wasn’t ideal. He was picked in the seventh round, 218th overall, by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, played mostly on special teams, and was released in October.
However, he quickly signed with the Browns and he played the next three-plus years until joining the Bills in March, one of the first free agents signed by new coach Sean McDermott.
“I had him for three years in Cleveland and like anything, the type of person he is, the type of worker he is, he’s just a football player,” said Bills linebackers coach Bobby Babich, who coached Poyer from 2013-15 before reuniting in Buffalo this year. “He embodies what we want in this organization as a football player. His DNA, as we say, fits exactly what we want.”
McDermott gives full credit to Babich for getting Poyer on his radar, and once he watched his tape, he knew he’d be the ideal fit for his zone-based secondary. Thus far, that has proven true as Poyer has 14 tackles, 1 interception, 2 sacks, and 5 pass breakups.
“We went through our process of evaluating Jordan and what you’re seeing on the field right now, we saw on tape; instinctive, aware, tough, good blitzer,” McDermott said.
For the Browns, Poyer played 45 games (10 starts) and made 95 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 sack, even though he missed the final 10 games of 2016 after suffering a lacerated kidney during a game against Tennessee when he was blindsided by the Titans’ Antonio Andrews.
“It was pretty scary, especially when the doctors told me half an inch higher, half an inch lower, you might not have stopped bleeding,” Poyer said. “You never want to mess with that so it was scary when he told me that. … My mom tells me before every game, ‘Hey, keep your head on a swivel.’ It was a learned lesson.”
Julie Poyer also teased him that had he chosen baseball, this wouldn’t have happened. “She said, ‘Why didn’t you take the baseball route?’ (I said), ‘I love football, mom. Dang, I can’t help it.’ ”
Once his condition was stabilized, Julie was actually a little mad at her son because he put himself in a position to get wiped out like that. She’s his biggest fan, but also his toughest critic, and he loves her for it.
The Bills come back to New Era Field to take on the Broncos this Sunday, Sept. 24.
“My mom is always pushing me, and whether I had a good game or a bad game, she’s always telling me what I did wrong,” he said with a laugh. “She’s been my No. 1 fan and she’s one of the reasons why I go out there on Sundays and play with the heart and passion I play with.”
Poyer also credits his fiancée, Instagram model Rachel Bush, for pushing him to be the best he can be. He is well on his way to becoming one of the most famous people to ever hail from Astoria, but he’s not even close to being the most famous person in the suburban Buffalo home he shares with Bush.
Bush, originally from Newcomb, New York, which is in the northern part of the state near the border with Vermont, has risen to internet fame as a social media starlet by posting photos and videos of herself on her Instagram account that has more than a half-million followers.
They met in the most 21st-century of ways, via Twitter, began dating in 2015 while she was living in Miami and he was playing for the Browns, and now they are engaged, have a daughter together (Aliyah, born earlier this year), and are perfectly open to sharing their lives on their YouTube channel, The Poyer Family.
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons throughout my relationship with her,” Poyer said. “She’s a social media star, everybody knows who she is, and we’re able to feed off each other, so it’s a healthy relationship. She’s pushed me every day, it’s all positive.”
That’s certainly the word the Bills would use to describe Poyer’s impact on their defense. He came to Buffalo with a somewhat thin on-field resume, but he’s already adding pages, not that anyone back home in Astoria is surprised.
“I know myself and what I expect from myself each and every week, so I don’t want to say I expected it, but I worked hard this off-season,” he said. “I wanted a team to want me to come in and play for them. I didn’t know what to expect coming off the injury last season with my kidney, so I really just wanted another opportunity to step on the football field and continue to pursue my dream. When I got the call from Buffalo, I was real excited.”