GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jack Heflin has gone from unwanted to uncuttable.
Heflin had zero scholarship offers following his career at Erie-Prophetstown High School in Prophetstown, Ill.
Division III schools wanted him. Some NAIA programs, too. In fact, he got only three walk-on offers from Division I programs. One of those was Northern Illinois.
“Small-town kid from 1,900 people. A lot of people don’t go watch football in that area,” Heflin said during training camp on Aug. 23. “I don’t know if they missed anything. It is what it is. It’s the hand that God dealt me. I’m not bitter about it. It’s just life is full of adversity. It’s just another obstacle I had to overcome and I wouldn’t change it, because it wouldn’t have made me work as hard as I did to get to where I am today.”
Where Heflin is today is with the Green Bay Packers. After a strong training camp and preseason, the undrafted free agent made the 53-man roster on Tuesday.
At Northern Illinois, the defensive tackle redshirted in 2016 following a shoulder injury, started all 13 games in 2017 and earned all-conference honors as a sophomore (six sacks, eight tackles for losses) and junior (three sacks, 8.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles). Having earned his diploma, he transferred to Iowa – where he told his mom he’d be playing while a 150 pound eighth-grader – for his final season in hopes of bolstering his NFL prospects. In eight games (all starts) with the Hawkeyes, he had one sack and 3.5 TFLs.
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“It’s good having him back. He’s a stud. He’s a future Hall of Famer,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
That was enough to open the NFL door for Heflin. He went undrafted but signed with Packers. Green Bay’s defensive line coach, Jerry Montgomery, is from Iowa. That connection is one reason why Heflin chose Green Bay over other suitors.
Even while flying well under the recruiting radars as a teen, Heflin harbored NFL dreams. He made them come true, a moment driven home before the second preseason game when he ran onto Lambeau Field amid the cheers of more than 70,000 fans.
“My freshman year in college, I sat there and I was like, ‘You know, I’m here to play in the NFL,’” Heflin said. “That was my mind-set all along. I had blinders on. ‘I’m going to play in the NFL. I’m going to do whatever it takes.’ Me, I don’t like to sit and think but I will say when we ran on the field against the Jets. The first time, you didn’t realize you’re just out there running. I kind of soaked it in last Saturday and I went up to Coach Gizzi and Tyler Lancaster, and I’m like, ‘This never gets old, does it?’ They said, ‘No, it only gets better.’ That was a moment. I was like, ‘Wow, this is the NFL.’”
Heflin could have a lot more moments like that one, though he also knows his spot on the roster isn’t secure. With Heflin and Lancaster, the Packers have six defensive linemen on the roster. If attrition hits a roster spot, one or the other could be gone.
So, Heflin is going to keep his head down and keep grinding. It’s what’s gotten him this far.
“I try not to focus on that, because when I start focusing on that stuff, I start feeling the pressure of it,” Heflin said when asked about roster battles during camp. “I just let that take care of itself. So, I don’t know where I stand. I’m just trying to give them a reason to keep me, just anything to develop around here in Green Bay. Because growing up, I’ve heard so many stories about Green Bay from college, and they’ve all lived up to it, so I’m just trying to do whatever I can to be here.”