FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Keith Buckman traded a tuxedo for a New York Jets jersey this weekend.
The undrafted free agent guard from North Dakota State was supposed to serve as a groomsman in his brother’s wedding Saturday. Instead, he took a shot at his NFL dream by participating in the Jets’ rookie minicamp.
“It was pretty easy,” Buckman said of his decision. “I mean, I told him and stuff, and he understood. He’s just as happy for me today as I am for him tonight. It wasn’t that hard. I wish I were there, but I’d rather be here, to be honest with you.”
The youngest of Buckman’s four brothers, Matthew, was with him when the draft ended last Saturday. That’s when the Jets called Buckman, telling him they wanted to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
“When we found out, he just said, ‘Good luck,”’ Buckman said of his brother. “He was happy for me. He was excited for me and I think he kind of forgot about his wedding a little bit.”
Even Buckman’s future sister-in-law, Heather Thomas, understood his decision to miss the wedding in Dickinson, N.D.
“She’s cool,” Buckman said with a big smile. “She doesn’t care.”
Buckman, who’s married, had his tux fitted and ready to go. He said his brother wouldn’t replace him in the wedding party, though, leaving the spot at the altar open in his honor.
“We had kind of already talked about it with my agent and he told us that most of the camps are this weekend,” Buckman said, “so we kind of knew that if I had a chance I’d be gone for that weekend.”
The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Buckman was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection as a guard after switching from offensive tackle before his senior season.
“It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, just coming out from the outside edge and coming inside,” he said. “I just adjusted to it and I think it worked out well.”
He started 33 of 44 games for the Bison after working his way into the offensive line rotation as a redshirt freshman. The Jets are looking at him mostly at the two guard positions.
“It’s been tough,” Buckman said. “It’s way different from what I’ve been used to. The biggest thing has been learning the offense. That’s probably the worst thing right now when you go out there and you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re trying to play fast and go hard. I just have to keep getting in the playbook.”
When he was signed last weekend, it was big news in Buckman’s hometown of Belfield, N.D., which has a population of about 800. The Dickinson Press reported that Buckman became the first person from the town to become a professional athlete after also being Belfield’s first Division I athlete.
“I’ve got a lot of friends and family behind me,” he said. “Everyday, I get texts from people and everybody’s been really supportive. I’m doing this for myself, but also for a whole community, too. The day I got picked up as a free agent, I bet there were about 40 people that stopped by.”
Buckman thought about his brother when he woke up Saturday morning, but decided against calling him because it was 3:30 a.m. in North Dakota. So, he waited awhile and texted him between practices to make sure he was keeping his nerves in check leading up to the wedding.
“I’m sure when we all get back,” a grinning Buckman said, “we’ll all celebrate.”