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Opportunity is knocking

It happens every summer on HBO's "Hard Knocks." The TV folks weave into the documentary the stories of a couple of free-agent long shots, NFL wannabes with compelling backgrounds. It makes for good TV because everybody loves an underdog, right?

Scanning the Jets' list of undrafted free agents, and doing a little research, we've come up with a few candidates for the long-shot role. Here's your cast:

Keith Buckman: A strong candidate. He's a 6-5, 321-pound offensive lineman from North Datoka State, where he blocked for Pat Paschall, an UDFA who signed with the Patriots. Buckman was the first person from his town, Belfield, N.D. (pop. 800), to play a Division I sport. Buckman will be missing a good time back in North Datoka this weekend. His brother, Matt, is getting marries, and Keith was supposed to be a groomsman, but he'll be in Florham Park, N.J., participating in the Jets' rookie minicamp. Wonder if he can deliver a toast via videoconference.

Kevin Basped: Another guy you want to root for. He's a 6-4, 254-pound outside linebacker from Nevada, where he racked up 19 1/2 sacks the last two seasons. He decided to turn pro after his junior year -- probably not the best decision -- but he actually tested well at the scouting combine. He still didn't get drafted. Basped endured a rough childhood in Sacramento. His former high-school coach, Mike Morales, told the Elk Grove (Calf.) Citizen, "He literally did not know where he next meal was coming from."

Broderick Stewart: He's a 6-4, 232-pound linebacker from Vanderbilt. He was born in Queens, N.Y., but grew up outside Atlanta. Because he's a 'tweener -- an undersized defensive end in college -- he spent a lot of time studying Jason Taylor. "I look at Jason Taylor a lot," he once said. Well, Broderick, this is your lucky day. You'll be looking at Taylor a whole lot this summer in Cortland. He's one of your teammates. Can't you see it now? A mentor-student angle, with Taylor showing the ropes to the kid.

Jeff Cumberland: Has been called an enigma and -- let's admit it -- we media types love to cover enigmas. He's a 6-4, 249-pound wide receiver/tight end with exceptional athletic ability. At the Illinois Pro Day, he blazed the 40 in 4.46 seconds and recorded a vertical jump of 35 inches. Dude has serious hops, which explains his reputation as a dunking machine at the prep level in Ohio. Problem is, he drops a lot of passes and made only 59 receptions in his college career. And, oh yeah, he once slugged a teammate and broke his jaw. He took the whole "Fighting Illini" thing too literally.

Charlie Tanner: Here's an example of how hard it is to get drafted into the NFL. Here's a 6-3, 305-pound guard from Texas, a two-time Big-12 selection, who couldn't convince a team to pick him. This guy is a three-time Academic All-American. At his Pro Day, he ran the 40 in 5.12 seconds (pretty good) and did 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press. But can he play? There's a clip on You Tube of Tanner holding his own against Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the draft.

So there you have it, five players that might be flashing across your flat screens this August.