ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and his staff were brainstorming recently, when they decided to name a play in honor of middle linebacker John DiGiorgio.
Traditionally, the name is drawn from the player's college program, which is when Fewell ran into a roadblock: No one knew Saginaw Valley State's nickname. And by the time someone got around to checking the school's Web site, it was too late.
``Now, I keep asking him, 'What's your mascot?''' Fewell said, with a big laugh this week.
For the record, the Division II Michigan-based program is called the Cardinals, a little-known school that's suddenly on the NFL map because of DiGiorgio.
He's the undrafted free agent who, in his second season, has capably taken over as the Bills starter after rookie second-round draft pick Paul Posluszny from Penn State - broke his left forearm in Week 3.
``My hat's off to (DiGiorgio) because I've put more on him this season than I did on 'Poz' or London Fletcher,'' Fewell said, referring to Fletcher, the Bills former starter who signed with Washington last spring. ``We expanded when John came in, and I knew that we could do that because John would do exactly what you said. ... So he's enabled us to be able to do what we're doing right now.''
DiGiorgio has been on a roll since stepping in.
He already ranks second on the team with 56 tackles, despite seeing limited action in Buffalo's first two games. He had a season-high and team-best performance, credited with 13 tackles in a 13-3 win at the New York Jets.
He had two half sacks, recovered a fumble and had an interception, picking off Tony Romo's pass at the goal line in a heartbreaking 25-24 prime-time loss to Dallas last month.
How's that for someone who was merely happy to survive the Bills final cuts in his rookie year.
``I think it's real satisfying because I came from a school that nobody has really heard of,'' DiGiorgio said as the Bills (3-4) prepare to host Cincinnati (2-5) on Sunday. ``And now I'm contributing to a defense that's going out there and playing its heart out.''
DiGiorgio is part of a no-name unit that's proven stout in helping Buffalo win three of its past four. At middle linebacker, he's in charge of calling the defensive plays in the huddle.
That's a big switch from college, where DiGiorgio was merely responsible for calling out a strength adjustment on the field, while the coaches provided him the plays.
He quickly learned how different things were in the NFL when he was handed the Bills' thick defensive playbook shortly after arriving for his first minicamp in 2005.
Overwhelmed initially, DiGiorgio holed up nightly after practice in his Buffalo hotel room and began cramming.
``I thought my study days were over,'' he said, laughing. ``I worked my behind off. I really wanted to be here.''
He appeared in 12 games last season, limited to special teams duty. DiGiorgio then spent this summer competing with Posluszny for the starting job following Fletcher's departure.
The competition was no facade, as both shared equal playing time through training camp and preseason games, before the Bills went with Posluszny.
``I took that as an opportunity to go out there to not only push him, but also push myself,'' DiGiorgio said. ``I really think it helped both of us out.''
DiGiorgio was no slouch at Saginaw Valley, where he was a first-team All-American in his senior year and finished with 462 tackles, third-most in Division II history.
He drew some interest from Mid-American Conference teams while playing high school in his native Shelby Township, Mich. But recruiters backed off after DiGiorgio broke his leg in his final game.
DiGiorgio's interception against Dallas was a highlight, even though it came in a loss. He was surprised by how many calls he received from old friends and former coaches, who watched his performance during the Monday night game.
``A lot of people lost track of me after high school,'' DiGiorgio said.
They know where to find him now.

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