ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ed Wang wants to make it big in China. To do so, the Buffalo Bills rookie offensive tackle knows he first has to make his mark in the NFL.
At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Wang is already turning heads and upending stereotypes by becoming the first player with direct Chinese ancestry to be selected in the NFL draft last month.
The son of former athletes in the Chinese Olympic program was selected in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, realizing a childhood dream instilled by his disciplinarian parents growing up in Virginia. They prepared him well for challenges that lie ahead.
Aside from making the Bills' roster, he's more than ready to become the flag-bearer for the NFL in its bid to crack the Chinese Wall and bring American football to the lucrative market beyond.
"There's no reason to beat around the bush and sidestep it," Wang said, referring to the buzz he's already generated in China, where he's been told his Bills jerseys are already on back order. "People are talking about it. So you might as well answer the questions."
The NFL certainly isn't ignoring the topic, believing Wang has the potential to do for the league what Yao Ming did for the NBA last decade.
"Absolutely," Michael Stokes, NFL China's managing director, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Ed is a gifted athlete with tremendous potential and we look forward to seeing him play for the Buffalo Bills. At the appropriate time, we are also excited to work with Ed on growing the game of football here in China."
Stokes said there have been 300 articles on Wang in the Chinese media since he was drafted.
Wang's arrival comes at a timely juncture for the NFL's Chinese outpost, which was established in 2007. Stokes said 28.3 million viewers watched the Super Bowl in February, while Sunday and Monday night games are also being broadcast regularly.
"We, along with our partners in China, are excited at the news," Stokes said. "For many people here in China, there is the belief that Chinese people are not well-suited to play football because they lack the physical size and strength. Ed certainly disproves that theory."
Wang gets his size from his parents. His father Robert, a former high jumper, stands 6-foot-2. His mother Nancy, a former Chinese national champion hurdler, is 5-11.
And that's not all he got from his parents, who emigrated from China in the 1980s. Wang is the product of a strict upbringing, during which he abided by numerous rules while buying into his parents' belief that he would one day develop into an elite athlete.
It was no different an upbringing than what his parents encountered working their way through the Chinese Olympic program.
"We taught them that an athlete has to be disciplined," Robert Wang explained, also referring to younger son David, an offensive lineman who completed his freshman season at Virginia Tech. "We told them, 'An athlete has to put in a lot of extra effort. You're different than normal people. You have a big future."'
It wasn't easy.
Ed Wang wasn't allowed to have a girlfriend until he earned a scholarship. He couldn't attend movies with his friends, or go over for sleepovers. And then there was waking up at 7 a.m. every Saturday to run sprints.
"I was mad as a child," Wang said with a wide smile. "I was like, 'Oh man, not this again.' But every Saturday we did it. And I just got accustomed to it. That's how life is."
And he's grateful for it.
"They really prepared me for everything, all the life challenges that I've been through," he said. "They told me, life wasn't easy. Nothing comes free. And I always took that with me. And it's been a part of me ever since."
The training allowed Wang to develop his footwork and speed. Regarded as the Hokies most consistent blocker, he's credited with being quick and agile for his size.
Wang opened his college career as a tight end before making the switch to tackle after his freshman season. He wound up starting at left tackle for his final two seasons.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer recalled how Wang made a solid impression the first day he took over the new position.
"He was just more athletic than most of the guys on the offensive line, so he gave you hope right away," Beamer said. "I think it's all in front of him. I think he'll do well. I'm pulling for him."
Wang has spent this weekend's Bills minicamp playing on the left side. Buffalo lacks depth at tackle, and he's expected to compete for a backup spot behind Demetrius Bell, who's coming back from a season-ending knee injury.
For Wang, getting drafted was simply the first step.
"It's not finished yet because I haven't done anything yet," he said.
Wang's also able to put his goals and career in perspective beyond his ancestry.
"I'm just another guy trying to make it, to be honest with you," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press