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From Muskegon to Mount Pleasant to Detroit, Lions WR Kalil Pimpleton aims to stick

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — As he walked off the field following Friday's rookie minicamp practice, Kalil Pimpleton scanned his surroundings and let the moment sink in for the first time. 

The former Muskegon High School star and Central Michigan standout has grown accustomed to shades of red, but the waves of Honolulu blue washed over him. The blue-accented practice facility building, blue equipment bags and numerous Detroit Lions logos let him know he'd achieved the goal of reaching the NFL. 

Now, he's intent on sticking around. 

"The biggest thing is remaining here," Pimpleton said. "It's definitely a blessing to have this opportunity.

It won't be easy. After going undrafted, Pimpleton faces an uphill climb to crack a crowded receiving room. The Lions made significant commitments to the position this offseason, re-signing Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, adding DJ Chark in free agency and making a bold trade up in the first round of the draft to snag Alabama's Jameson Williams. Along with the returning Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus, there doesn't appear to be any space for another body. 

Last season at Central Michigan, Kalil Pimpleton caught 62 passes for 960 yards and four touchdowns.

But things change quickly in the NFL, whether via injury or a transaction, so Pimpleton is going to do the only thing he knows how — put his head down and go to work. 

"One thing I have to do is compete, come out here and put my best foot forward every day," Pimpleton said. "Strive to be the best player, teammate and person that I can be, day in and day out, and show not only what I can do in the receiver room, but on special teams, as well. Personally, I believe I'm best with the ball in my hands. So, speaking from the return aspect, showcasing my skills as a returner, to allow myself the opportunity to move up in the receiving room."

On Saturday, with rookie minicamp practice open to the media, Pimpleton was putting those skills on display. Despite being clearly undersized at 5-foot-7, 172 pounds, his short-area quickness presented problems for defenders, both while trying to cover his routes or get the angle on him in an open-field tackle drill. 

At Central, Pimpleton was electric in the open field. In 2021, he caught 62 passes for 960 yards and four touchdowns. As a punt returner, he scored twice on 16 opportunities, finishing with an impressive 19.1-yard average. 

When asked, Pimpleton detailed what goes into being a successful return man, starting with vision, feel and the ability to make quick decisions. Additionally, one of his primary focuses, which is easier said than done for many returners, is to make sure he's always moving forward. 

"You want to make sure you're always running downhill and gaining yards," Pimpleton said. "It's very tough when you're running side to side because guys are rallying to you. You see some plays where guys are running side to side and make something happen, but the most happens when you're running vertical and able to run past guys' arm tackles."

That correlates with his pursuit of a roster spot. He just has to make sure he keeps his momentum moving forward as the offseason progresses, from this past weekend's rookie minicamp through OTAs, training camp and the preseason. 

Everyone loves an underdog, almost as much as everyone loves seeing the hometown kid play for the local pro team. So when those two conditions collide, you have the makings of an ultimate feel-good story. 

"They're definitely excited for me," Pimpleton said about his family and friends back home in Muskegon. "I try to tell them to stay cool, stay calm. I'm here, but I'm not here. You know what I'm saying. I'm just blessed to be able to showcase what I can do out here for the Lions, representing my city."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers