Lions' Ings makes climb from game's lower rungs to NFL

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Kendrick Ings made the transition from the AFL Tampa Storm to the NFL Lions.

Allen Park — For Kendrick Ings, it was the road less traveled that led him to the NFL — finally.

Ings, 25, used a nontraditional route to achieve his dream of playing on football's highest level.

Ings didn't play football in college.

He played semi-pro football and in a lower level in arena football before making it to the Arena Football League. And he did his own promotion, compiling his game clips and sending them to teams to just get a shot at making it to the next level.

All that hard work paid off Wednesday, when Ings, a free-agent wide receiver whom the Lions signed to the practice squad.

"I cried last night," Ings said. "I can't explain it — I just cried. My mom and dad were getting emotional."

It's been a quick turnaround for Ings this week. After one-year stints in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League and the Tampa Bay Storm of the AFL, Ings found himself in a Lions workout on Tuesday and with a spot in the Lions locker room, preparing to work with the likes of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

"I took a lot of pictures. It's just exciting. I'm the locker next to Tate and a couple lockers from Calvin. This is awesome."

Ings' road to the NFL seemed to be over after he finished at Miller Grove High School in Lithonia, Georgia. He had a chance to play at North Carolina but wasn't academically eligible. Then he planned to play at Northeast Mississippi Community College but a paperwork glitch and the coach's departure led to him losing his scholarship.

The backup plan was to attend Fort Valley State and play the following year, but he ran into more academic issues.

"Being a regular student, I didn't have any push, so I just stopped going," he said. "I told my mom my body is getting older, but my mind is going to stay fresh. I'm going to start workouts and training to try to make it to the league.

"This has been a dream since I was little; I never had a doubt."

Ings, who said he ran the 40 in 4.37 seconds on Tuesday, has played receiver for just two years, after playing quarterback, running back and cornerback in high school.

But when he reached the obstacles in college, he worked his way into tryouts in the smaller arena league by sending videos for coaches to evaluate.

"Basically, it was a mixtape of me playing football, doing semi-pro and a little bit of my high school," Ings said. "That's how I got to the CPIFL; from there, I put my CPIFL together to send it to the AFL."

After starting with a semi-pro team, he moved up to the Dodge City Law in Kansas in the CPIFL. He had a shot in the AFL, but the Pittsburgh team that wanted him folded, which led to him getting a tryout with the Storm.

Following arriving in Detroit on Monday and doing his tryout for the Lions on Tuesday, he's a step closer to his dream of playing in the NFL, just a few weeks after the conclusion of the arena league season.

"It's not weird. I'm like a big kid right now," he said. "I'm looking at all these guys and I studied Calvin Johnson film and Tate film and now I'm sitting right next to them. They're a lot smaller than they look on TV."