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O'HARA: Valles persistent & patient in working to build an NFL career

Life will change soon on an important personal level for Hakeem Valles, and he also could be moving up in status in the competition for a job among the Detroit Lions’ tight ends.

His life change is first and foremost, as it would be for anyone. Valles is expecting the birth of his first child on Thursday. It’s a girl, and Valles already has picked out the name Lucienne.

“It’s another Haitian name, like mine,” Valles said. “She’s named after my grandmother.”

Valles smiled broadly as he talked about the impending birth. He laughed when someone joked about the baby being born the day before the Lions play their second preseason game against the New York Giants at Ford Field on Friday night.

He’ll have his mind on his work, no doubt about that.

Beginning in college at Monmouth University, where he was shifted from wide receiver to tight end as a fourth-year senior, to his NFL stops with the Arizona Cardinals and Lions, Valles has been persistent and patient in working to build a career in the NFL.

He hasn’t let any obstacle deter him.

“It’s just that – taking advantage of every opportunity I got,” Valles said. “I didn’t get my first catch until my senior year of college. Once I got the opportunity, I just kept taking it. Now I’ve got a baby coming. She’s going to be here any day.”

In advance of Lucienne entering the world, Valles delivered for the Lions’ offense with two catches in last week’s preseason loss at Oakland. Both catches gained 13 yards and first downs on plays where Valles got open in the progression of the offense against the Raiders’ coverage.

“You get out there, you see the right coverage,” Valles said. “No matter what, you’re going to take advantage and hope the ball comes to you on every play.

“They were great plays. They were dialed up, and we made the play happen.”

Nothing has been handed to Valles in football, either in college or what is now his third NFL training camp.

He hadn’t caught a pass at Monmouth until his fourth season and first as a tight end. He had 18 catches in 2014 and 22 in 2015.

In 2016 he made the Cardinals’ practice squad out of training camp as an undrafted rookie. He was active for 11 games, with one start, and without having a reception.

Valles was released by the Cardinals’ in the last cut in 2017 and signed to the Lions’ practice squad. He was signed to the active roster for the last game and brought back this year to compete for a roster spot.

The competiton for roster spots, roles and playing time is as wide open at tight as any position group on the Lions’ roster.

The position was destined for a sweeping makeover when the top two tight ends from last season – Eric Ebron and Darren Fells – were not re-signed and departed as free agents.

There are six tight ends on the roster. Michael Roberts, a 2017 fourth-round draft pick, and Valles are the only two who were with the Lions last year. With four catches, Roberts is the only one with a reception as a Lion in the regular season.

Valles learned quickly that change is a constant in the NFL.

“You’ve got to take everything as it is,” he said. “We’ve got a completely new room, a new makeup, and I love that. I loved the room last year. It’s a bunch of guys getting after it, competing every day.

“It hasn’t changed. It’s still a hard-working attitude – as it’s always been.”

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