Two years ago, the chances of Brandon Bostick even being in this position were remote.
Lightly recruited out of high school, the future Green Bay Packers tight end dominated as an NCAA Division II wide receiver at Newberry (S.C.) College and finished near the top in all of the school's major receiving categories.
However, 4,000-seat Setzler Field is a long way from Lambeau Field, and the South Atlantic Conference pales in comparison to the frigid NFC North. Bostick needed to adapt to survive in the pros, so he switched to tight end and earned a contract with the Packers on tryout.
Bostick, 25, spent a year on the practice squad before making the Packers' 53-man roster out of training camp last summer. Entering his third year in Green Bay, he has his sights set on the starting job.
It's an opportunity he isn't taking lightly.
"Last year, I was more focused on making the team and doing the little stuff. Now, I'm focused on I want to be the starter," Bostick said. "I want to be that guy. Everything I'm doing right now I want to be the starter. I'm trying to make plays every time I'm out there and trying to be consistent."
The starting tight end spot opened when Jermichael Finley suffered a spinal cord contusion that required a fusion of his C3/C4 vertebrae in November. He's been cleared by his surgeon, Joseph Maroon, but remains unsigned.
The Packers haven't ruled out bringing back the 27-year-old Finley, but they could also turn to Bostick, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor or rookie third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers.
Bostick had seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in 11 games and tied for fourth on special teams with seven tackles, a bit of a surprise given that he never played special teams in college.
A foot injury ended Bostick's season with three games left and restricted his running for most of the offseason. He reported for the offseason program 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight, but expects to be back down to 260 pounds when training camp arrives.
He wasn't the only tight end to miss time, though. Quarless was seen as an early front-runner to start, but didn't participate because of an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Rodgers stated his case during organized team activities with one brilliant catch after another.
Bostick said watching hastened his return, which came with 1 1/2 weeks left in the offseason program. His 4-yard touchdown catch over first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in team drills serving as the highlight of his minicamp.
"I pushed myself hard to get back out there," Bostick said. "I saw the rest of the guys making plays. I wanted to be one of those guys. I'm a competitor. I just wanted to be back out there with the team and competing."
Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot agrees his room could feature the tightest battle of all the Packers' positional groups during training camp with holdover Jake Stoneburner, and undrafted rookies Colt Lyerla and Justin Perillo also vying for roster spots.
For Bostick, it's about taking another step. His play on special teams and natural upside make him a leading contender for a roster spot, but there's still plenty left to work on.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bostick had three drops on 14 targets last season. His ability to haul in passes down the seam not only will be important to him seeing the field, but also gaining the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Bostick also points to improved blocking, though Packers coach Mike McCarthy credited him for being the team's best blocking tight end earlier this offseason.
"The more reps that Brandon gets, the better off he's going to be," Fontenot said. "The more memories that he's able to create and experience on the field practicing against our defense in a full-tempo situation, the better off he's going to be. Obviously, he's taking baby steps since he's been back, but pleased with his progress. Ultimately, we're really thinking about having him come into training camp healthy and ready to go."
Bostick plans to spend his month off back home in South Carolina with a few trips sprinkled in before returning to Green Bay. Wherever he stops, however, he plans to be in the weight room making up for lost time.
He admits things are different without his friend Finley around, but that means opportunity for the rest of the tight ends.
"I think I can accomplish anything I want to," Bostick said. "If I'm not the starter, I'll do whatever they tell me to. Special teams last year, I was good on special teams. I just go out there and be the best I can."
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