Lions rookie WR stays grounded after Hawkins elects to retire

The next-man-up mentality which prevails in football turned a light away from Lavelle Hawkins and onto an unheralded rookie who was a longshot at best to make the B.C. Lions a month ago.

If anyone, however, has reason not to get his hopes up it is 25-year-old receiver Kendrick Ings.

Dealing with a host of setbacks throughout a career which has taken him to leagues not exactly flush from network television exposure, Ings moved a step closer to making the CFL roster because of the surprise announcement by Hawkins (above) that he intends to retire.

A receiver who developed decent chemistry with Jon Jennings during the second half of last season, Hawkins was being counted on in the scheme of returning offensive coordinator Khari Jones.

Hawkins, however, wasn’t sure he wanted to play another season and went through the first week of training camp before making sure he was finished for good, joining Austin Collie as starting receivers gone from last season.

“I just didn’t feel the spark,” said Hawkins, who was looking for flights from Kamloops to his home in Stockton, Cal., where he plans to become a firefighter. “I wanted to give myself an opportunity to see how it felt. I was also told that if the love isn’t there it’s time to get out. It’s not fair to me, my teammates and the young guys trying to make this team. I felt that I needed to walk away.”

That opens the door for Ings, though by no means is he an automatic to start looking for rental accommodation, coach/GM Wally Buono said Monday.

Ings is, however, represents a compelling tale about perseverance. Start by looking up his college background. He doesn’t have a college listed by his name.

He tried to become part of the football factory south of the border,  but there were paperwork foulups and some indecision that kept him out of even JUCO ranks. Ings tried out for the Lions five years ago, but knew he didn’t have the polish to be considered. He was 19 at the time.

That led him to a stop in the Arena League as well as the Dodge City (Kan.) Law of the Champions Professional Football League, which may be the football equivalent of Pluto. But the receiver’s 4.37-second speed was ultimately tough to ignore and Ings last year made it briefly onto the practice squad of the Detroit Lions.

Small wonder that when he made it to the top briefly, he broke down at one point, and also made sure he took plenty of pictures of an NFL locker room. Suddenly, Buono and the Lions were interested again and Ings didn’t have to heart to tell them they wouldn’t get a second chance.

“Five years ago I was a raw talent. I was just raw speed. That triggered them to give me another shot,” Ings said after practice Monday. “I guess my story got around.”

He’s in no position to take anything for granted though, and the Lions could quite easily use the rest of the pre-season schedule to evaluate Terrence Jeffers-Harris, who spent all last year on the practice roster and is equally deserving of a serious look as a result.

In the afternoon practice, Jeffers-Harris was indeed in the spot held by Hawkins. Also receiving a little love with the starters at the other wideout, Canadian rookie Shaquille Johnson.

So if the move to bring back Nick Moore didn’t sit well with those who thought he was overvalued by the Lions, it does now in the wake of Hawkins’ departure — even if it leaves Jones scrambling to conjure up ways to use his short-side wideout if he doesn’t have much pro experience, much less a college education.

“The main thing is to stay in the playbook and if I make plays I have a good chance to make the team,” said Ings. Without so much as pre-season game film to evaluate, it’s a pragmatic approach from a player who understands the value of patience.


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.