By: Will Burchfield
Cole Wick will be the first one to tell you he’s stubborn.
His dad is, too.
At home in Texas, the two frequently butt heads when working on Cole’s 2006 Ford F-150 pickup.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh yea I got this down,’ and my dad will come in and be like, ‘Hey, nah, we’re doing it this way,'” Wick laughed.
To which Cole typically responds, “Ahhh, nah. I got it.”
This stubbornness has served Wick well in his ascent to the NFL. He was never a highly-regarded prospect in high school or college, and he heard the naysayers every step of the way.
Heck, he still hears them.
“There’s doubters at every level. I’m just going to go out and play and do what I can with the opportunity that I’m given and hopefully change their minds about what they’re seeing,” Wick said.
The opportunity he’s been given is one he’s earned. Wick played four seasons at the University of the Incarnate Word – the only school to offer him a scholarship – and gained the attention of local scouts despite his team’s lack of exposure. When he slipped through the cracks in the 2016 NFL Draft, a number of teams came calling.
The Panthers, the Raiders, the Eagles, the Buccaneers – “there’s a few other ones,” too, Wick said. “Can’t think of them off-hand.”
Ultimately he ended up with the Lions, where, in the wake of Saturday’s injury to Eric Ebron, Wick has a chance to be the team’s starting tight-end as the 2016 season beckons.
“He’s growing,” said Coach Jim Caldwell. “[In the] spring, I thought he caught onto things fairly well, and now we have a lot more information going in, it’s happening a lot faster. But I think he’s hanging in there. He’s working at it, he’s doing a good job.”
With Ebron sidelined for the time being (the Lions declined to provide an update on his condition on Monday), Wick and journeyman Matthew Mulligan took first-team reps during Monday morning’s practice. And while the book is more or less written on Mulligan, the ceiling is far less defined for Wick.
Signed mostly for his blocking ability, the 22-year-old flashed legitimate offensive potential throughout early-summer OTAs and minicamp. In Saturday’s mock game, Wick was promoted to the first-team offense after Ebron’s injury and promptly hauled in a touchdown. He is tall (6’6) and sure-handed, and incredibly eager to learn.
Which makes him fortunate, he explains, to be surrounded by a number of willing teachers.
“Ebron’s been a great mentor. He and [Brandon] Pettigrew both, Matt Mulligan, all the veteran guys. They’ve really helped me kind of ‘crispen’ things up a little bit, all the way through OTAs, all the way through camp,” Wick said.
“I’m just trying to get everything down so I can benefit the team as much as possible,” he added.
Wick understands his increased playing time is a product of circumstance. And after watching Ebron get carted off the field on Saturday, his immediate concern was for his teammate.
“It’s bad to see a guy go down, especially a guy who’s been helping me and I’ve seen him work so hard to get to where he’s at, and I’ve been watching him for a couple years now. It sucks to see him do down and I’m really hoping that he comes back well,” Wick said.
Until then, though, he is eager for the opportunity at hand.
“It’s exciting,” he allowed.
For Wick, the next challenge will be facing new opposition. The Lions will practice with the Steelers on Tuesday and Wednesday before the two teams square off at Heinz Field on Friday night.
After lining up against his teammates for the past few months, Wick is looking forward to a different kind of test.
“I’m excited to get back and get out there and compete against other guys,” he said. “All the experience is going to build up and it’s going to help.”
Though Wick has been told – time and time again – that he won’t succeed at the next level, he’s never paid the critics any mind.
“I don’t like giving up at all. I’ll never take somebody commenting on me negatively and think, ‘Oh, poor pitiful me.’ I’m just going to take it and keep playing,” he said.
To his credit, he’s taken it all the way to the NFL. And now, with a real opportunity before him, he has the chance to prove he belongs.
Not that he ever doubted that, either.
“I’d like to have thought that I was for fit [for the NFL] the whole time. I never doubted what I could do. Other people might have just because I’m from a small school, but I know what I can do and I know that I’m fitting in well,” he said.
As Lions tight ends coach Al Golden told him, “You’re here because you can play.”