It was about an hour after Wednesday's practice, and the Green Bay Packers' locker rooms were mostly empty.
But tucked inside a locker in the small locker room adjacent to the main locker room sat Kole Heckendorf. His eyes were buried in the Packers' thick offensive playbook.
"It's OK," he said when bothered by this reporter. "I was just going over some stuff."
It's a good thing Heckendorf mentally can handle a lot of "stuff." The undrafted free agent from North Dakota State is being asked to learn all of the receiving positions in the Packers' complicated offense.
"I'm learning them all, the X and the Z and the two inside guys," said Heckendorf, who was one of just 13 football players in the Missouri Valley Conference to earn the President's Council Academic Excellence Award, which requires a 3.5 cumulative grade point average and the athlete to be within 18 hours of graduation. "It's good because I probably get in there as much as I can knowing all of the positions, but it's taxing working at it. It's not easy but it's getting better each day."
It's so far, so good for Heckendorf, a lifelong Packers fan who holds several Wisconsin high school receiving records during a standout career at Mosinee. During Wednesday's practice, for instance, he caught a pass between a linebacker and safety and turned it upfield for a nice gain.
"Today was the first day that the whole group was here, so (Donald) Driver was here with us," Heckendorf said. "It was cool. I've got to watch Driver growing up for how many years. It was just cool being out there with him and with the guys and just being a Packer."
Heckendorf left North Dakota State as the school's career leader in receptions (178) and receiving yards (2,732). Even bothered by a turf toe for much of last season, he averaged 18.1 yards per reception.
Sure, that production came largely against Football Championship Subdivision schools rather than Bowl Championship Subdivision powerhouses, but Heckendorf's height (6-foot-2), speed (4.39 seconds in the 40 at his pro day), intelligence and familiarity with the West Coast Offense at NDSU give him a fighting chance to replace Mark Tauscher as a Wisconsin native on the roster.
"Oh, for sure. Pretty much after that first day," Heckendorf said when asked if he's had one of those "I belong" moments. "After that first day, you were like, ‘Well, should I be here or not?' I pretty much said, ‘Yeah, I can play here.' Now, it's just listen to the plays and do your thing, just like any other football game."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.