Running back Fred Jackson is living the dream.
He was 26 years old when he made an NFL roster, hooking on with the Buffalo Bills in 2007.
Last year, he had a breakout season with 571 yards rushing and 37 receptions for 317 yards.
Now the former Division III star at Coe College is one of the highest-paid backup running backs in the NFL.
"To get something you want, you're going to have to work for it, and that's just the approach that I took," said Jackson, who has been awarded a four-year contract extension believed to be worth $2 million a season.
"There are a lot of guys out there that want to play in the NFL, and I felt like I was one of those guys that was going to have to work to be here. Fortunately, I was able to get in, get my foot in the door, and I was able to take advantage of the opportunity, so I'm blessed more than anything."
Jackson, an agile 6-foot-1, 215-pounder, combines power with agility as a runner and proved last year he can be an effective weapon as a receiver.
After college, the Fort Worth native honed his skills in the United Indoor Football League and NFL Europa. Indoor football was never the same after he scored 53 touchdowns for the Sioux City Bandits in 2005.
Last season for Buffalo, Jackson proved he could be a reliable No. 2 behind Marshawn Lynch. When Lynch was injured in Week 16 at Denver, he rushed 10 times for 43 yards and the winning touchdown. He also set up a fourth-quarter touchdown with a 65-yard reception. A week later at New England, he started and rushed 27 times for 136 yards.
In 2007, he rushed for 115 yards on just 10 carries against Miami.
"It just proved that I could compete at this level," Jackson said. "I've had some success at every level that I've been in, and to come in last year and have some success like I did, it just let me know that I could compete here and that I belong here."
The Bills felt the same way about Jackson, but hammering out a new deal that was fair to both sides didn't come easy. Jackson was an exclusive rights free agent and bound to a one-year tender at $460,000 for this season.
Rather than make him play on those terms, Bills COO Russ Brandon rewarded Jackson's hard work and future potential. The pace of talks was slow and Jackson skipped some voluntary conditioning work, but everything worked out. Jackson's deal is reportedly $7.5 million over four years.
"You can say there was some frustration at times, but I think that's part of the process," Jackson said. "It's something that you grow from, and I think both sides grew from it and we moved forward, so we're here now. Today's the day it's over and done with and now we have to play football."
The Bills are counting on Jackson and free agent Dominic Rhodes to carry the load in September while Lynch serves a three-game suspension. Jackson isn't happy he may be the starter by default, but it's a good opportunity.
"I'm extremely excited about it and it's a process that I'm going through right now that I'm headed into the season knowing that I'm going to be the guy that they're going to be leaning on," he said.
As for competing with an accomplished veteran like Rhodes for playing time, Jackson has beaten the odds before.
"He's a competitor and I looked at it more as somebody to compete with," he said. "He's a phenomenal athlete, you see some of the things he's done and some of the plays he makes, it makes you compete with him, and I looked at it as another player that's going to come in and help us. When he's called upon, I think he'll make plays for us and I'm just excited to play with him. And we'll compete, just like I compete with Marshawn. I'll compete with him and he'll compete with Marshawn as well. I'm excited about it."