He thought COVID killed his dream. Now Evan Heim trying to capitalize on time with Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Evan Heim thought his football career was over.

As he stood in the shower a couple hours after the end of this spring’s NFL draft, when no teams had so much as called to check on his status, Heim “had probably some of the worst thoughts of my life.”

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe I just wasted 18 months just working out. I’m not getting a call. This (bleeping) sucks. My football dream’s over. I could have been working my real job by now,’” Heim said. “And then got out of the shower, kind of moseying around just cause I’m angry, angry at the world, and I get the call from my agent. I was like, you know what, it’s probably him just telling me, ‘Yeah, nobody’s interested. Sorry, Evan.’ And he called me and he’s like, ‘Hey, lace up your cleats, you’re going to Detroit next week.’”

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Heim, who signed with the Detroit Lions before May rookie camp, was incredulous.

“I was like, ‘Are you (bleeping) serious?’” he said.

And for good reason.

An offensive lineman who played his last college football game for Minnesota State Mankato in December 2019, Heim was one of dozens of players who saw their NFL dreams deferred by COVID-19.

Heim was not invited to last year’s NFL combine and was unable to work out for NFL teams when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered sports a few days before he was scheduled to take part in the University of Minnesota’s pro day last March.

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The NFL discontinued prospect visits, halted in-person workouts and cancelled rookie minicamps last spring, which left teams reluctant to commit roster spots to Division 2 prospects with limited film and no medical reports.

Heim took a temporary construction job near his home in DePere, Wisconsin, last summer, laying pipe and digging ditches while waiting for an NFL team to call.

That call never came — understandably, Heim said. And in November, he landed a job making $16.25 an hour delivering packages for Amazon that was more conducive to his morning workout schedule and allowed him to pay for his football training.

For six months, Heim spent five days a week attending 7:30 a.m. workouts at Synergy Sports in nearby Hobart, Wisc. He did offensive line drills with Kyle Steuck, a Synergy trainer who played briefly for the Green Bay Packers. By 11 a.m. he was on the road delivering packages to 200 or so homes a day in the greater Green Bay area.

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Heim said he worked 10-to-12-hour shifts around the holidays, when he made as many 300 stops in an afternoon. And in March he got bit twice by a dog while delivering a package a few days before  securing a last-minute invite to the next week’s Minnesota pro day.

“I got a little bit of a scar left,” Heim said, pulling down his sock to reveal a scar on the back of his ankle. “Normally with dogs I was never worried about anything, so I was just like, hey, it’s whatever. He probably just climbed on (the back of my leg) and scratched me. And then I handed the package to the lady and the dog was still being aggressive. So as I’m walking away, the dog comes and like clamps onto my ankle so I was like, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ The lady didn’t say anything. I was like that’s kind of bogus.”

Heim, who graduated with a degree in finance, said he put off becoming a financial planner because he did not want to leave any clients without support should an NFL opportunity arise.

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As he stood in the shower on Day 3 of the draft in May, he made plans to get his resume together and start applying for jobs the next week.

“I waited so long just to get that call and it really was probably one of the best feelings of my life, just actually getting the call and finally being able to get out here and just being here,” Heim said. “That’s why I’m real appreciative of being here. But I’m not satisfied with just that, I want to actually make it.”

Heim, who joked he spent his entire signing bonus celebrating that night at his local Chicago Street Pub, thought that call put an end to his COVID odyssey.

He spent the spring taking backup reps on the Lions offensive line and showed up to training camp this summer ready to compete for a roster spot — only to be told he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

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“Of course,” said Heim, who had only mild symptoms, similar to when his allergies acted up when he returned to school from home every summer. “It was just like, COVID didn’t really help me out last year and right when I get back, I’m out for the first eight days.”

The Lions activated Heim from the reserve/COVID list last week, and Heim will make his preseason debut when Friday against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field.

Whatever happens the rest of the summer, he will always have quite the football tale to tell.

“That’s what I kind of kept telling myself, too. This is going to make my story that much better once I actually make it,” he said. “Not everything was sunshine or rainbows, that’s for damn sure. There’s a lot of low moments of just like, ‘God, I’m putting in all this work and nothing’s really coming about it.’ But I just kept putting my head down and said it’s going to come. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next week, but it’ll eventually come and I just got to be ready for it.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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