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O'HARA: Wick's progress has been remarkable

Cole Wick has a rock-solid place in the University of the Incarnate Word's history that will withstand the test of time and never be surpassed.

Wick is the first player in school history to sign a contract with an NFL team. He barely beat out good friend and teammate Mike Tavares, but Wick cemented his place in school history when the Detroit Lions signed him as an undrafted free agent late on the evening of April 30.

Wick had waited throughout the three-day draft without being one of the 253 players whose names were called. As it turned out, draft lightning struck twice for Incarnate Word when Tavares was signed by the Eagles within the hour after Wick had cut his deal with Detroit.

Wick played tight end and competed every day in practice against Tavares, who played linebacker. They had a friendly rivalry that extended to the draft – and beyond, obviously.

"I signed first ...  by minutes," Wick said after Tuesday's minicamp practice. "Very, very short minutes. It was definitely within the same hour – by about five minutes."

Wick's place in his school's draft history is a neat story, but his focus these days is on taking advantage of the opportunities he has gotten in the offseason program to make the roster. His progress has been remarkable, considering where he came from.

Incarnate Word is a private Catholic university in San Antonio that began a football program in 2009. Wick was a four-year player (2012-2015) and had a career-high 30 catches in 2015. Incarnate Word's 5-4 record in the Southland Conference was its first winning conference record.

In one 11-on-11 drill Thursday, he was on the field with the No. 1 offense as a blocking tight end.

"It's exciting to be out there with those guys," Wick said. "I hope to learn as much as I can from them. It's all a learning process, I get reps pretty much with all three groups."

At 6-6 and 255 pounds, Wick has good size. reported his best time in the 40-yard dash was 4.83 seconds.

If he chooses, Wick can look to the Lions' history for examples of tight ends from small schools that have made their mark in the NFL.

Pete Metzelaars played two of his 16 NFL seasons after being drafted by Seattle out of tiny Wabash. Rob Rubick was a 12th-round pick by the Lions out of Grand Valley State in 1982. He lasted seven seasons, all with the Lions.

And Casey FitzSimmons, who grew up playing eight-man football in high school, came to the Lions in 2003 as an undrafted rookie out of Carroll College. He played 99 games in seven seasons.

Because of injuries, Eric Ebron is the only active tight end who was on the Lions' roster last year. Brandon Pettigrew is still recovering from a late-season knee injury, and Tim Wright recently was put on season-ending injured reserve.

Wick is one of five active tight ends on the roster. Ebron and Matthew Mulligan, who's played seven seasons mostly as a blocking specialist, are the only veterans.

The current makeup has given Wick more practice time than he might have otherwise gotten.

The experience of being in a pro camp has put Wick through a range of emotions.

"It's been stressful," Wick said. 'It's been fun. It's been all over the place. I'm just trying to get better as an athlete. Hopefully, I can contribute to the team, make the team better.

"It's had its ups and downs. I'm trying to get better every day."

Where does the stress come from?

"A lot coming at you at one time," Wick said.

And the fun?

"Everything. It's the National Football League. Getting to run around and play football. I don't have to work. Yeah, we get paychecks, but it ain't work.

"It's more fun that sitting behind a desk."

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