Veldman rakes long road to NFL
FARGO — The travel schedule for Matt Veldman from Minneapolis to Frisco, Texas, this week will give the NFL tight end a tour of the middle of the country. He’ll be all over the place.
But why stop now? The former North Dakota State standout took the long road to reaching his NFL dream last week, finally seeing the field. It was just one play with the Detroit Lions, but it was also one play that started as a free agent, was derailed by two injuries — including a torn ACL — and being cut three times.
“I just kept the faith,” Veldman said. “I really thought God is making you take the hard road.”
Veldman was on the verge of making the Jacksonville Jaguars roster as an undrafted free agent in 2012 until he tore his ACL. He spent that season on injured reserve and was eventually let go.
The Lions signed him last summer, but cut him. He then signed with Tampa Bay and was assigned to the Buccaneers’ practice squad, which lasted nine weeks. He also had to deal with a lower leg injury.
“I was settled in at Tampa a bit and thought I had a niche there,” Veldman said. “But I still got released.”
Unemployed and living in his hometown of Becker, Minn., the Lions re-signed him in December. He was activated for the last regular-season game at, of all places, right down the road at the Metrodome against the Minnesota Vikings.
“The way things happened that last week, that stuff just doesn’t happen much” in the NFL, Veldman said. “The NFL is crazy, but it’s hard to believe someone higher up was not looking over me. It’s like they said, ‘Here’s your chance.’”
He was assigned to a position on the punt return team in the middle of the game and for a while, it was looking like the Lions weren’t going to need that unit.
But the Lions finally stopped the Vikings on a third-down conversion and out on the field went Veldman.
“It wasn’t like a star-struck moment,” he said. “I played this game my whole life. I played in a lot of big games, just not on the NFL stage. I’ve done this before. Let’s go play.”
It was just one play.
“But the fact is I was still relevant,” Veldman said, referring to the Lions. “They could have activated a lot of different tight ends for that last game. It was a game that counted as opposed to the preseason games.”Veldman caught one pass for 29 yards in the 2011 FCS title game win against Sam Houston State. He was there last year as a spectator and will be there again on Saturday when the Bison play Towson University (Md.).
“I wish the Lions made the playoffs and I wish I was playing playoff football,” he said. “When we got eliminated, I got the worst flight schedule in the world, but no way was I going to miss this game.”