IRVING, Texas – DeForest Buckner grew up in Waianae, Hawaii, about 30 miles from Honolulu on the west coast of Oahu. He attended the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium as a fan while starring at nearby Punahou High School.
One day, perhaps the 22-year-old defensive lineman returns home as an NFL all-star.
First things first: Buckner is simply looking for an NFL home. On Tuesday, he continued his pre-draft audition with an official visit to Valley Ranch to meet Cowboys coaches and staff. The Cowboys are expected to conduct the bulk of their 30 allotted national visits over the next week.
"Just walking around, just looking at all the pictures and history that they have here in Dallas, it's amazing," Buckner said.
He's already familiar with AT&T Stadium. Fifteen months ago Buckner started at defensive end for Oregon in its national championship loss to Ohio State. After returning to school in 2015 for his senior season – "I like to finish what I start," he said, "and getting my degree was really big for me" – he's now widely considered a top-10 prospect in this year's draft. The Cowboys have the fourth overall pick.
Which team drafts Buckner is anyone's guess, but a fourth college season certainly appeared to help his development. The 2015 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year posted career highs in tackles (83) and tackles for loss (17), and his sack total also jumped from 4.5 to 10.5 as a senior. Already a powerful run-stopper at 6-foot-7 and 291 pounds, Buckner worked hard on improving his pass rush in Oregon's 3-4 scheme.
The Cowboys have been in the free-agent market for defensive line help, among several other positions, this offseason. Recently they have signed Jack Crawford and Benson Mayowa for depth at defensive end. Veteran defensive tackle Cedric Thornton also signed a four-year deal presumably to be another playmaker alongside Tyrone Crawford in their 4-3 front.
Many draft observers believe Buckner's frame and skills project best at 3-4 defensive end, where he played in college. Buckner doesn't think he's limited to one style of defense, though. He played some 4-3 in high school and contributed at multiple spots in college.
"I personally feel like I can play in any scheme, play in any spot," he said. "Even though we were a 3-4 team at Oregon, I played all the different techniques on the defensive line. I feel like personally whatever scheme I'm put in, I'll fit right in."
Athletics were a big part of the Buckner family growing up. Basketball was actually his first sport – his dad, George, played in college. But his love of football emerged from his mom's side of the family. His uncles had played the game, and DeForest took up flag football at age seven.
He chose Oregon for its culture and its proximity to home. Wherever he ends up in the NFL, he plans to have a place for his family to stay when they visit to watch him play.
Right now, he's focused on showing teams he can be a difference maker on defense, just as he was in 38 college starts.
"Just that I'm a big, athletic guy and that I can play wherever they need me," he said. "That I'm physically and mentally ready for the next level."