When he woke Wednesday, he figured he’d be just another signee. Just another tweet from the account of a respected FCS football program. The news was huge for his family—free college!—but the zero-star recruit doubted it would register on a day dedicated to the five-stars and their hat dances.
So he signed his National Letter of Intent and his financial aid paperwork and sent it to his chosen school. At 8:19 a.m. Central, the account for that respected FCS program fired out that tweet to tell the nation who had just signed.
The nation was paying attention.
Kobe Buffalomeat sat in his second period class at Lawrence (Kans.) High when the retweets began pinging his phone. At first he figured this was normal. After all, he’d never signed to play college football before. “Something’s kind of fishy,” Buffalomeat remembered thinking. As they kept coming, he checked the tweets for his fellow Illinois State signees. Fellow offensive lineman Drew Bones was in the single digits. Defensive back Ricky Rollerson had cracked double digits. Buffalomeat had hundreds. Soon, he’d have thousands.
Those of us known to nerd out on athlete nomenclature were alerted quickly to the possibility that there might be a player worthy of a place alongside former Virginia basketball player Majestic Mapp (or his brother, former Florida A&M guard Scientific Mapp) or former Florida Atlantic linebacker Yourhighness Morgan or former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle.
The Internet also tipped off sketch comedy virtuosos Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who recently brought college football name nerd-dom out of the shadows and into the mainstream with the East-West Bowl.
“That’s kind of when it hit me,” Buffalomeat said.
By the time Buffalomeat walked out of that second period class, the 6’ 7”, 285-pound offensive tackle was trending nationwide. He was name-checked on ESPN. Every major sports site published a story about him. A producer from Jimmy Kimmel Live would call Kobe’s mother Paula later in the day to set up a potential appearance on Thursday’s show.
All because of a name produced by his father’s lineage and his mother’s basketball fandom.
The name Buffalomeat comes from the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe in Oklahoma. Kobe’s father Ray is half Cheyenne-Arapaho and half Cherokee. Paula is half Choctaw and half white. And while the juxtaposition of a name that also describes a type of beef with the name of a meat frequently substituted for beef is a key reason for the fascination, Kobe isn’t named after the beef. He’s named after the basketball player who was named after the beef. Joe “Jellybean” Bryant chose his son’s name after seeing the Japanese beef—named after the city where the cattle are raised—on a menu. Kobe Buffalomeat was born in January 1999, during Kobe Bryant’s third season as a Los Angeles Laker. “I hadn’t really heard the name, and I liked it,” Paula said So that’s what we went with.” His middle name? Wayne, after Paula’s father.
In elementary school, it was Kobe’s first name that drew more attention. Some classmates called him Obi Wan Kenobi. The surname gets the second looks now. “If you pay with a card at the grocery store, people say, ‘Is that really your last name?’” Kobe said. Meanwhile, Buffalomeat’s name has spawned three excellent nicknames at Lawrence High. Most students call him Buff. Some friends call him Beef. Football coach Dirk Wedd calls him Meat.
Despite having the best name in a football recruiting cycle that also included Jacksonville State-bound offensive lineman Ye’Majesty Sanders, few knew Buffalomeat’s name in football circles. Older brother Anthony played receiver at Emporia State, but Kobe played football his freshman year and stopped after a back injury suffered playing baseball. He concentrated on basketball for the next two years, but Wedd was determined to get Buffalomeat back on the football field. Wedd tried to convince Ray. He tried to convince Paula. He tried to convince Kobe’s grandfather. Finally, the youngest Buffalomeat child—Kobe also has a sister named Samantha—relented. “I thought to myself I might as well try it for a year,” Buffalomeat said. “If I don’t like it, I don’t need to play. But if I do, I’ll go on. It turns out I was pretty good at it.”
He is. Buffalomeat still needs to learn the finer points of offensive line play, but he has a perfect frame for a tackle, and the years spent on the basketball court have given him quick, agile feet. His frame is ideal. He could easily carry 300 pounds keep those feet graceful.
The Redbirds didn’t know about Buffalomeat until last month when linebackers coach Jake Schoonover went to a basketball tournament to watch a different player and asked Wedd about the giant on the low block. “That’s my right tackle,” Wedd replied.
Buffalomeat received passing interest from most of the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference. He also considered his brother’s alma mater, a Division II school located 83 miles southwest of Lawrence. On the January day Buffalomeat visited Emporia State, Illinois State coaches let him know they wanted him to come visit them in Normal.
What happened next was anything but normal. Buffalomeat committed to the Redbirds on Sunday. Three days later, he signed. Then he became an instant celebrity. “I guess I just got lucky,” Buffalomeat said. “It’s kind of like winning the lottery, I guess.”
Except he won on the day he was born.