O'HARA: Hockenson living his dream with the Lions

T.J. Hockenson is experiencing something better than living his dream.

Hocksenson is living his reality, one glorious day on top another at the start of his career with the Detroit Lions.

Hockenson was asked Tuesday what constituted the “wow moment” in his introduction to the NFL in a job he cherishes – a professional football player.

The rookie tight end expressed the same sentiment that he did with unfiltered passion at his introductory press conference last month after the Lions had drafted him in the first round out of Iowa.

“I’m playing football,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. “I get to come to work every day. I’m grateful I can be here. This is a fun time. I get to play a game for a living. I get to be a part of this great organization.

“There are so many people here who are great people. They want the best for you. Don’t get me wrong, they want to win.

“I get to play this game for a living.”

It’s been a life-changing four weeks for Hockenson, starting with the draft on April 25 and being greeted by Commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage at NFL draft headquarters in Nashville.

He already has signed a contract, in keeping with what is part of the slotting system for rookies based on draft position.

Hockenson has been assigned No. 88, worn with royal distinction by the late Charlie Sanders, a Hall of Fame tight end and one of the Lions’ all-time greats.

Hockenson is well aware of Sanders’ place in franchise history, both as a player (1968-77), assistant coach (1989-96), broadcaster and ultimately personnel executive at the time of his death in 2015.

Only three players have worn No. 88 since Sanders’ last game in 1977.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Hockenson said. “Charlie Sanders was a great player here. Just looking back at him, being a Hall of Famer, doing a lot for the community, a lot for this team, this organization – it’s a special number.”

Hockenson is an important part of the Lions’ plan to rebuild a tight end position that might have been the weakest unit on the team last year.

General manager Bob Quinn made his intentions known when he signed Jesse James, formerly of Pittsburgh, in the first wave of free agency.

Hockenson has gotten his first taste of NFL competition – with a lot more to come, and at a higher level.

He went through three days of rookie minicamp on Friday through Sunday, then transitioned into the full-squad workouts -- veterans included – on Monday.

Hockenson enjoyed being on the field with the veterans and seeing how they worked to improve their craft.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Just being with all these guys, meeting some guys, seeing familiar faces. We’re all trying to get better every day. This is a job – the best job on earth. We’re all trying to go to work and do our job.

“Competition every day is very high. You’re in the highest level of the game. You have to come to work every day and go to work, compete for a job, compete for the team. We want to be the best team we can be.

“We’re at the highest level now.”

Another new experience is catching passes from Matthew Stafford, who truly has an elite arm.

“There’s a great quarterback throwing the ball to you,” Hockenson said. “It comes a little faster. It’s going to be in the right place.”

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