GREEN BAY – Last Saturday, at the moment of truth, Lenzy Pipkins wasn’t sure what to think.
As the 3 p.m. roster deadline approached, the undrafted rookie cornerback hadn’t received a call from anyone at the Packers telling him whether or not he’d made the team.
Media outlets began circulating the news on Twitter that he was on Green Bay’s 53-man roster, and Pipkins started receiving congratulatory messages from friends, but he still didn’t quite believe it.
Then, at 3:05, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. called him with the positive news, that he was one of seven corners the Packers were keeping, and he could finally let it sink in.
“That’s when it hit me,” Pipkins said on Monday, getting interviewed in the main locker room for the first time. “I just broke down crying. It was a blessing from God. It was a crazy, wild weekend.”
Pipkins is one of two undrafted rookies who made the Packers’ roster, along with punter Justin Vogel, and he joins a list of undrafted cornerbacks Whitt has helped tutor in the past, from Tramon Williams to Sam Shields to LaDarius Gunter.
Pipkins is the first to admit he’s still “raw,” having just taken up football six years ago as a senior in high school. He had just quit the basketball team when his friends convinced him to try out at a football combine in his home state of Texas.
He ran a 4.4 in the 40, started using his man-to-man basketball skills as a cover guy, and it “went from there.” He landed at Louisiana-Monroe, transferred as a graduate to Oklahoma State for his last year of collegiate eligibility, and showed enough in one season in the Big 12 to attract some NFL attention.
Pipkins isn’t sure he’d have gotten a shot in the pros without the one year of FBS competition. Appearing in 13 games in a major, pass-happy conference and intercepting a ball in a game at TCU got him on the radar.
“Once they saw I could play in that conference, it was a changed story,” Pipkins said.
Still, the road from undrafted to the roster is a hard one. Pipkins chose Green Bay amongst more than a half dozen free-agent offers because he sensed the Packers’ depth chart at the position was changing heading into 2017, and he wanted an opportunity to be part of those changes.
An early impression in the preseason helped his cause. In the first game against the Eagles, Pipkins got in the game in the second quarter – earlier than expected due to Damarious Randall’s concussion – and he made it count.
He was quickly involved in two tackles, one on a running play at the line of scrimmage, and another in the open field after a short pass.
“Just doing that, it changed my mindset,” he said. “It was, ‘OK, all right, you can play.’ All the nerves and jitterbugs were out.”
He had one rough stretch in Denver, giving up back-to-back throws down the sideline that led to a Broncos touchdown, but his physical tools and versatility ultimately carried the day.
He got work as both a boundary and slot corner throughout the preseason, and where he fits best remains up in the air. The Packers kept him to find out just what they might have in Pipkins, who had an interesting take on what it was like to move from the auxiliary locker room to the main one after four months toiling in obscurity.
“When I was back there, we used to say we were in the ’hood, the projects,” Pipkins said. “Coming out here, you feel like you’re in a mansion now. Everything around you is different. Your head is above water a little bit, but you still have to work. Never get complacent. Still grinding.
“I want to be in this league for a long time. I made it past one step, now it’s on to the next one.”