Jack Heflin never doubted his ability and now, he’s prepared to prove that all over again.
The former Iowa and Northern Iowa defensive tackle from Prophetstown returned to camp with the Green Bay Packers late last week after making the NFL team’s 53-man roster a year ago as an undrafted free agent.
“The work, it’s the same. I’ve been putting in the work this offseason to get better and put myself in a position to go back to Green Bay and compete in camp,” Heflin said. “I’m going there to earn a chance to be part of the team again.”
Heflin trained in Iowa City this summer and was among a number of former Hawkeyes who took part last month in the Rally for Reid Camp organized by Los Angeles Rams safety Jake Gervase of Davenport.
He welcomed the chance to work with young players at the event which benefits pediatric cancer research and families who are dealing with pediatric cancer.
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“I’ve tried to take some time this summer to help others, appreciate what I have and appreciate how far I’ve come,” Heflin said. “I don’t take any of it for granted.”
Initially a walk-on who developed into an all-conference player at Northern Illinois before joining the Hawkeyes as a graduate transfer, Heflin started all eight games Iowa played in its abbreviated 2020 season.
He believes both experiences benefited him as he prepared to compete for an NFL opportunity.
“I’ve had to work to earn every opportunity I’ve had in this game and I don’t mind that,” Heflin said. “I’ve always taken the approach that you earn what you get with the work you put into it, and I’ve always been willing to put in whatever work it takes.”
Playing an interior defensive line position where success isn’t necessarily measured by statistics, Heflin finished with 21 tackles including 3.5 for a loss and one sack in his only season at Iowa.
Heflin said the experience he gained during his time with the Hawkeyes positioned him well as he prepared for his first camp with the Packers.
“It was the perfect situation for me. Everything Iowa does on defense is so detail oriented it forced me to really zero in on the details and approach the game from that perspective,” Heflin said.
“It’s the same way the game is played in the NFL, and that year at Iowa, learning from teammates and coaches who expect the game to be played at a high level, it taught me a lot.”
Heflin took that approach with him as he worked to earn the next opportunity in his career.
“There probably weren’t a lot of people on the outside who thought I had much of a chance to make the roster when I went to camp with Green Bay, but I didn’t see it that way,” Heflin said.
Instead, the former all-state player from Erie-Prophetstown viewed the situation he was in no differently than what he had been through before, first at Northern Illinois and then at Iowa.
“Every step along the way, I’ve had to prove myself,” Heflin said. “I know I can play this game. I believe that. I believe in myself and my abilities. I’ve had to prove that over and over, and that mentality, it wasn’t any different last year. I had to go to Green Bay and proved that I belonged.”
Heflin accomplished that.
He thrived against the run in the preseason last summer, taking on double teams and filling space in the middle of the defensive front. He also displayed some skill in pass-rush while leading the Packers with six quarterback pressures during the preseason.
That combination allowed Heflin to earn a spot as one of six interior defensive linemen on Green Bay’s 53-man roster last season.
The Packers relied on a five-player rotation throughout much of the season, limiting Heflin to action in four games and 17 total snaps on defense during his rookie year. He recorded his only tackle last season in a game against the Chiefs.
Each game provided Heflin with a chance to fulfill a dream and gain experience he now hopes can become an advantage as he competes for a roster spot at this year’s camp.
“I tried to learn from every single day last year,” Heflin said. “I was living my dream, going from Prophetstown to walking on at Northern to playing in the NFL, but I didn’t want it to end there.”
That motivation continues as Heflin has worked toward the start of this year’s preseason camp.
Heflin does appreciate what he has experienced, however.
“That first time I stepped onto the field at Lambeau during a game, it was emotional,” Heflin said. “It kind of hit me at that moment that this was all real, it was actually happening. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
He enjoyed his season in football-crazed Green Bay, joking that at 6-foot-3, 304 pounds he blended in well.
“I already looked like half the guys in Wisconsin,” Heflin said. “I fit right in.”
He doesn’t plan on that changing anytime soon.
“I’m as hungry now as ever,” Heflin said. “That hasn’t changed.”
Photos: Second Annual Rally for Reid football camp
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