Lions think small school TE Wick can do big things

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Before the 2012 season began, Incarnate Word held a freshman scrimmage.

One of the assistants didn’t want Cole Wick to participate, but, knowing he wouldn’t play much his first game, Wick convinced the coach to change his mind.

“So, I get out there and I’m going, and I catch a pass on like the 40-yard line,” Wick said. “I’m trying to get to the end zone, and I juke out two guys, which was when I was like 220 (pounds). So, I get to about the 20-yard line. There’s another guy.

“I juke him out and then I run all the way to the end zone for about a 40-yard touchdown. I turn around and everybody’s like, ‘Whoa.’ ”

Wick had to wait to impress people other than his teammates — he didn’t have a catch in any of his eight games as a freshman. But, like many college players, his numbers improved each season.

As Wick watched the final pick of the NFL draft last week, his agent told him the Lions were going to offer him a $10,000 signing bonus to sign as an undrafted free agent. A few minutes later, Wick knew his opportunity would start in Detroit despite offers from Carolina and Tampa Bay and teams that called later.

Not bad considering Incarnate Word, a Catholic university in San Antonio, didn’t have football until 2009, starting in Division II. The past three years, the Cardinals have played in the Football Championship Subdivision, but won’t be postseason eligible until 2017.

Wick and linebacker Myke Tavarres, who signed with Philadelphia, were the first Incarnate Word players to reach the NFL.

For Wick, being at a small school was nothing new. He was one of 26 students in his graduating class at Sacred Heart Catholic High in Hallettsville, Texas, about 100 miles east of San Antonio.

Because there were so few students, Wick participated in several sports. Besides being MVP of the basketball team three years and a two-way player on the football team, he participated in swimming, track and field, baseball and golf.

As a senior, Wick had 30 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns, but Incarnate Word coach Larry Kennan said the offense was hardly polished. The team’s leading receiver, Kody Edwards, had 561 yards.

Kennan, an NFL assistant for 16 years, said Wick should improve as a receiver, and his experience in a pro-style offense should help him contribute as a blocker, something Wick enjoys doing.

“He’s tough and he’ll block and he’s been taught the mechanics of blocking,” Kennan said.

During Kennan’s first four years at Incarnate Word, he said two nearby scouts — one with Minnesota, one with Carolina — would attend the pro day as a favor of sorts, just in case something popped out.

This year, scouts from 23 teams attended pro day, so it’s no surprise Wick, who averaged 14.3 yards per catch the last two years, and Tavarres, a former Arkansas recruit who had 221/2 tackles for loss last year, are on NFL rosters.

Wick (6-foot-5, 256 pounds) had an official 40-yard dash of 4.93 seconds, and his 361/2-inch vertical would have ranked second among tight ends at the Combine.

What also could help Wick is his ties to the Lions.

Incarnate Word’s offensive coordinator, Tony Marciano, is brother of Lions special teams coordinator Joe Marciano.

And Kennan, who spent 14 years as executive director of the league’s coaches association, considers coach Jim Caldwell a “good friend” and knows several of Caldwell’s assistants.

Although the Lions have Eric Ebron, the Lions lack long-term depth at tight end. Brandon Pettigrew has two years left on his contract, but will be coming back from knee surgery. Tim Wright and Matthew Mulligan are under contract one more year.

So, Wick will have an opportunity to earn a job. And when the Texas native gets his chance, he’ll be hauling in passes from a quarterback he’s been watching “all my life” in Matthew Stafford.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be wonderful,” he said. “It’s a great, great opportunity for me.”

Extra points

Amid several rookie additions this week, the Lions signed veteran wide receiver Andre Caldwell to a one-year deal Tuesday, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 6-foot Caldwell spent the last four year with Denver after four years with Cincinnati, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2008.

He had 15 catches the last two years, but returned some kicks for the Broncos and should provide competition for Ameer Abdullah and TJ Jones at that spot for the Lions.

... The Lions waived tight end Jordan Thompson after he failed a physical. He appeared in two games as a rookie and spent all of last season on injured reserve (knee).