In all nine years of his NFL career, Kenny Wiggins had never stood in front of a podium to address the media. So when he got his first chance to do so on Tuesday afternoon, he had one request for the Detroit Lions local media.
“Take it easy on me, alright?”
And while the media was mostly benevolent for Wiggins’ first presser, the NFL has not been quite as friendly to him since he entered the league in 2011.
He went undrafted after playing for three years at Fresno State. Not receiving any immediate offers from NFL teams, he soon accepted a deal with the UFL, playing on a 10-day contract for the short-lived team known as the Sacramento Mountain Lions. That wasn’t exactly a dream job for him. Not only did he receive just one of the two paychecks he was due, but the meal offerings weren’t quite up to the NFL’s standard.
“Two hot dogs in one bun, that was our lunch,” Wiggins said. “And I was like okay, this is not football. This is not the NFL.”
From there, his ascension was slow, but steady. A month or two later, the Ravens signed him to their practice squad, where he remained for the rest of his rookie year. He spent the next year on the 49ers’ practice squad, watching as his team lost in the Super Bowl to his former Ravens team.
He was close to breaking the team’s 53-man roster. As a swing tackle and an option at guard, all he needed was an opportunity in San Francisco... but it never came.
“I was taking reps with the ones all year when guys needed breaks,” Wiggins said. “Our backup tackle was our starting right guard, so if any of those three guys got hurt, I was getting pulled up for sure, and none of them got hurt.”
So then it was onto San Diego, where he finally caught on with the Chargers and got his first playing action on offense—of course, after being released a few times throughout 2013 and 2014. After five years of bench-squatting in the NFL, the hard work and stress of being cut and re-signed had finally paid off. The Chargers made great use of his positional flexibility, playing him at both guard spots and tackle in more than 40 games over the next three seasons (25 starts).
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since he finally cracked the starting lineup. Every year, it seems, Wiggins has had to deal with more and more competition. After years and years of fighting his way on and off the 53-man squad, Wiggins now expects to have a target on his back.
“I always go in, being an undrafted guy, thinking that they’re going to replace me, because I’m an undrafted guy,” Wiggins said. “I just have to prove myself and earn the coach’s trust, and make sure that they can trust me being out there, and my teammates can trust me out there, and that’s how I’ve kinda gone about my business throughout my entire career.”
But this year may finally be different for Wiggins. Now in his second year with the Detroit Lions, where he reunited with his Chargers offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, Wiggins doesn’t face quite as stiff competition. Though the Lions added Oday Aboushi in free agency and signed a few priority undrafted free agents on the offensive line, they didn’t draft a single player on the offensive front.
“Honestly, this is the first year in the last six years I haven’t had a person drafted at my position in the first three rounds,” Wiggins said. “And I’m still here, so there something to say about that.”
[Note: Technically the Chargers didn’t draft an offensive linemen in the first three rounds in 2015, but they did sign two free agents who became starters.]
So after nine years in the NFL, Wiggins finally gets his shot not only in front of the media, but to potentially start the offseason program as the assumed starter on an NFL offensive line. But that’s not going to change how the battle-tested veteran approaches this season.
“I’ve been through it all. I’ve been cut 10 times, I played in the UFL. I’ve done it all, so nothing surprises me at this point in my career. I think I’ve proven I can play in this league, and it’s just going out there and just doing what I normally do day-in, day-out, being the same person when I walk in the door.”