FREDONIA, N.Y. (AP) _ Carey Bender knew his chances with the Buffalo Bills were limited. He was a tiny guy from a tiny college competing with players who had been in four Super Bowls.

Bender didn't come from just any school, however. He shares his alma mater, Division III Coe College in Iowa, with Bills coach Marv Levy.

Levy helped out his fellow alumnus with a year on the developmental squad. Bender responded by bulking up and soaking in a year of practice.

``It was a great learning experience for me _ being on the team for a year, practicing, watching film and learning from the veteran players,'' Bender said Monday. ``Hopefully, it gave me a chance to improve.''

Improving is one thing. Bender is beginning to make an impact.

He put together an impressive performance in a preseason-opening loss to the Washington Redskins and showed there might be room on Buffalo's roster for a player who can play almost anywhere.

Bender had five carries for 19 yards at running back and three catches for 21 yards while lining up as the slot receiver in Buffalo's no-huddle offense. He returned two kicks for 51 yards, played on the punt-coverage team and also rushed the punter.

``Wherever I can fit in,'' Bender said. ``The more I know about the team and different positions, the better for me. If I can do two or three different teams, hopefully it can get me a spot on this team.''

The Bills might have missed Bender had Levy not spotted him in 1994 at a game at Coe, where the coach was accepting an alumni honor. With Levy in the stands, Bender rushed for 238 yards on 20 carries and scored four touchdowns against Monmouth.

Bender was selected the best Division III player in the country two years ago and still holds collegiate records for 417 yards rushing in a game and 2,243 yards in a season. Still, the jump to NFL might be too much.

``You love to see a guy beat the odds,'' Levy said. ``When you know how hard they worked and how earnest they are, you pull for them a little bit. You don't let it cloud your judgment, but you pull for them.''

Bender signed as a free agent with the Bills before last season and is still hanging around. His biggest problem is that he is battling for a job in an already solid position.

The Bills have veterans Thurman Thomas, Darick Holmes, Tim Tindale and Yonel Jourdain. They also have rookies Leon Neal, Muhammed Shamsid-Deen and Jason Bratton. Buffalo kept five running backs last season.

``I don't really care where I came from,'' Bender said. ``I don't look at that. Now that we're all here, it doesn't really matter where you came from. It matters where you're going. I'm looking into the future.''