Kole Heckendorf is living the dream.
The native of Mosinee, Wis., and a lifelong Packers fan has carried forward his strong performance during offseason practices to the first week of training camp. Tonight, he makes his Lambeau Field debut with the Family Night Scrimmage.
More than anyone in the locker room, tonight is a big deal.
"Oh, for sure," Heckendorf, the leading receiver in North Dakota State history and one of the most prolific Wisconsin prep stars ever, said after Friday's practice. "I've got a lot of family coming tomorrow. My mom and dad are coming and I don't know how many of my aunts and uncles from the Madison area are coming up. It should be an exciting time. I've just got to keep pushing forward just like any other day and have fun out there."
Heckendorf's been having a lot of fun. Whether it's learning from the veteran receivers, or borrowing the bike of a 10-year-old boy named Riley to get to and from practice, or playing cards with the offensive line, or having his last name being yelled regularly by Al Harris, or making big plays on the practice field, Heckendorf is having a blast.
Never mind his heavily bandaged right big toe, the black-and-blue byproduct of having it stepped on.
"The nail's going to fall off sometime. We're just trying to keep it on as long as we can," he said with a smile.
The injury's hardly slowed him down. On Thursday, he made one of the best catches of training camp when he hauled in an Aaron Rodgers long ball with a Willie Mays-esque over-the-shoulder catch against Will Blackmon. While he's dropped a few passes, he's been mostly sure-handed, has picked up the offense quickly, has plenty of deep speed and runs good routes.
His goal is to get on the practice squad. At this point, it would be a huge surprise if he doesn't get that invite.
"Just learning from one of the best wideout groups in the NFL right now," he said. "I get to go with Donald (Driver) and Greg (Jennings) and see these guys play every day. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from them and don't just try to be like them."
Coach Mike McCarthy and receivers coach Jimmy Robinson have sung Heckendorf's praises, and Rodgers likes what he's seen, as well.
"I think Kole's shown a lot of improvement since he got here in the offseason," he said on Friday. "He's a very smart guy, he gets the offense down. He's smooth with his transitions in his routes. He understands coverages. As far as a rookie, I think he's very advanced. It's going to be his task this preseason to really make the most of his opportunities and realize that he's going to get a lot of game time in our first preseason game, our second preseason game and the fourth one. He's going to need to make the most of those opportunities, and if he does that, he's going to have a good shot to be in the mix."
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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. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.