T.J. Hockenson 'was meant to be' with Detroit Lions. The signs were there

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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T.J. Hockenson didn’t have a clue which NFL team was going to take him in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft, but as he looks back now, the signs were there.

When he picked out his draft-day wardrobe the night before he left for Nashville, Hockenson chose a pair of novelty socks with an image of his favorite movie, "The Lion King," on the calf.

On the red carpet before the draft, Hockenson played a game of draft Plinko for one media outlet that came up Lions.

He packed a blue shirt for his post-draft news conference.

“All I had,” he said.

Detroit Lions first-round draft pick T.J. Hockenson poses with his jersey Friday, April 26, 2019 at the practice facility in Allen Park.

Even back when he was young, Hockenson played for a Little League baseball team called the Tigers, where his uniform included a hat with the Old English D.

“There were a lot of signs that came to this,” Hockenson said at his introductory news conference Friday. “I was meant to be here and I’m very excited to start.”

The Lions are excited to have Hockenson, too, the consensus best tight end in the draft and someone they expect to have an immediate impact on every aspect of their offense.

He’s a sure-handed receiver, a sometimes overpowering run blocker, and someone Lions coach Matt Patricia called “a perfect match” for “everything we’re trying to do moving forward.”

“As you sit in the waiting room and you look at draft picks and the names that come up and you have target guys that you’re looking at and T.J. was there, certainly we were getting excited but didn’t want to get too excited,” Patricia said. “And, after the picks came in and we were up, we just basically had to wait because we had the card ready to go right away.”

Hockenson, the first tight end taken in the top 10 since Eric Ebron in 2014, flew to Detroit early Friday morning and was greeted at his gate by a small contingent of team employees who passed out hats to him and his parents.

As he made his way through Metro Airport to a limousine waiting outside, Hockenson stopped to pose for pictures for a dozen or so Lions fans.

He ran into one of his new teammates, Lions receiver Danny Amendola, in the airport, then toured the Lions’ Allen Park practice facility and met with coaches before concluding a whirlwind 24 hours in front of reporters.

“It’s been fun,” Hockenson said. “I mean, you get to meet so many people. In Nashville I got to meet a lot of the guys that you don’t really get to talk to, you just hear their names. And then you get to come here and you get your name called, which is amazing. And like I said, I’m excited for this opportunity.”

Hockenson said he had 600 or so unanswered text messages as of Friday afternoon, many from people in his tiny hometown of Chariton, Iowa — population 4,122 — that he planned to spend next week answering.

The town threw a community draft party Thursday that several hundred people attended, and patients at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital posted a congratulations video on Twitter.

Hockenson said the work he did at the hospital through the football team was both humbling and rewarding.

“It really puts into perspective that this is a game,” he said. “There’s so many people that are wanting to be in your position and so many people that can’t get out of bed and they’re just little kids that they’re so innocent and they just love life. You walk into the room and their eyes light up. That just puts it into perspective how good of a life you have and how many people it’s taken to get there.”

For those reasons and others, Hockenson said he’s determined to make the most of his opportunity as a professional football player.

“Isn’t that cool?” Hockenson said. “I mean, really. You get to play football for a living. That’s the best feeling in the world. There’s no words to describe that.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.


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