A reporter was mid-interview with a Citadel football player when Khafari Buffalo bounded up, trademark grin in place.
"Time for my GQ photo shoot, right?" he asked. "You know I'm gonna be on the cover."
Buffalo, a junior cornerback for the Bulldogs, is not quite ready for the glossy magazine covers. But if The Citadel is to get where it wants to go this season — back in contention for the Southern Conference championship — Buffalo is likely to play a key role.
The 6-2, 190-pounder from Sumter's Lakewood High School, suspended from the team during spring practice, was absent from the Bulldogs' preseason depth chart. When The Citadel opens the season Saturday with a key SoCon game at Wofford, Buffalo will be starting at cornerback in a young secondary that is probably the team's biggest question mark.
"If we want our best 11 out there on the field," Citadel coach Brent Thompson said, "then Khafari has to be out there somewhere."
Thompson says Buffalo is one of the Bulldogs' two fastest players, along with receiver Raleigh Webb. And his promise has long been evident, as Buffalo made the SoCon all-freshman team two years ago and last season played in all 11 games, mostly at safety, with 33 tackles.
But Buffalo was nowhere to be found during spring practice, serving a football suspension while taking care of issues in the Corps of Cadets. Problem is, Buffalo is such a happy, light-hearted kid that Thompson could hardly bring himself to get mad at him.
"Khafari has such a great personality, and that's the hard thing," Thompson said. "You can never really get mad at him, because no matter what kind of day you are having, he's always having a good day. So it was difficult for both of us when I had to suspend him.
"But I think it's really helped him and woke him up, and he's been on the right track ever since."
Buffalo learned his sense of humor as one of 12 children in his blended family. His stepmom is an educator in the Sumter County school system, and his dad works in information technology for the Dept. of Defense in Charleston. His younger brother, Kai Buffalo, plays football and runs track at Hanahan High School.
Khafari's name, he said, is a blend of his father's name (Kamau) and "safari."
"My dad says it means 'concrete jungle,'" Buffalo said.
At The Citadel, a military school where there's a time and place for everything, Buffalo sometimes has to put the brakes on his sense of humor.
"I like to be outgoing and put a smile on people's faces," he said. "If you are gonna be out here, you have to have fun. When people are down, I try to lighten it up, and sometimes that gets me in trouble. As I get older, I've learned how to calm it down."
Buffalo learned more lessons over the summer, when he worked as intern for the strength and conditioning staff. He coached up the freshmen during their 5:30 a.m. workouts, then went through his own workouts before helping the staff clean up and prepare for the next day's work.
"Khafari and I had an agreement that he had to get right with the Corps before he could rejoin us as a football team," Thompson said. "That was a real eye-opener for him, because he loves football and loves being with the guys. You take that away from him, it woke him up a little bit."
With his size and speed (he's been timed in 4.35 seconds for the 40-yard dash), Buffalo compares favorably with past Citadel cornerbacks such as Cortez Allen, who played five years in the NFL with the Steelers, and Dee Delaney, now on the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster as an undrafted free agent. A couple of solid seasons at corner could set him up for a similar shot.
"That's the goal, it really is," said Buffalo, who is studying health and exercise science with an eye toward becoming a physician's assistant. "As a young kid, I dreamed of it. My dad wants me to shoot for the league. He knows I'll be successful in whatever I do, but my whole family wants me to shoot for the league."
If it happens, that cover photo shoot might not be too far off after all.
• The familiar "Citadel" C logo will be back on The Citadel's helmets this season after a one-year absence. Last year, the helmets featured the players' numbers on the sides.
• The Citadel is doing its part to boost attendance at Saturday's game at Wofford. The school plans to bus about 600 members of the Corps of Cadets, mostly freshmen, to Spartanburg for the game. Also, Citadel safety Aron Spann III, who went to Spartanburg's Dorman High School, is expecting about 200 friends and family at the game.