Stick. With. It.
To many, the above expression is simple.
Besides simple, it’s also short in length, just three words.
But for an individual such as Jets tight end Dedrick Epps, the phrase “Stick with it” means much more.
To him, the slogan is viewed as a trademark and one that hasn’t left his side.
Epps is attempting to earn a roster spot with the Green & White this season and his journey in the NFL thus far hasn’t been the smoothest.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s been frustrating. It’s not easy, it’s not easy. It takes a lot on your mind and it’s a large toll. And you just have to stick with it because there’s been times where I think, well, this might be the end of it, what do I do now? Then a week later, I get a phone call.”
The 6’3” 250-pounder was drafted by San Diego in the seventh round of the 2010 draft but was a final cut by the Chargers that September. Then he was signed to Miami's practice squad. Epps’ time with the Dolphins was somewhat special since he was returning to the place where he played his college ball. Yet his stay near South Beach wasn’t permanent. Almost exactly a year later he was waived by Miami and back at square one.
Yet Epps never allowed himself to fall out of shape. He thought back to his motto and one month later his phone rang once again. This time it was the Indianapolis Colts calling and inviting him to join their practice squad. Epps accepted their invitation and remained a part of their organization until the start of December 2011 when the Colts released him.
Behind strong support and encouragement from his mother, friends and former teammates, the 24-year old tried not to lose confidence. In college he was a four-year standout at Miami and played alongside two other current NFL tight ends: Richard Gordon of the Raiders and Saints Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham. The trio formed one of the top TE corps in college football.
“Before Jimmy came over, I was used as the receiving tight end and Richard Gordon was used as the blocking tight end,” Epps said. “And then Richard got injured and they used me more as the blocking tight end and Jimmy was the receiving tight end. I tried to do it both, blocking and the routes, while he did the routes so we could be more of a threat. And I think we were. I think we had a solid tight end corps with me, him and Gordon.”
Epps said he stays in contact with Graham, who has provided him advice.
“He’s just told me to keep sticking with it because unfortunately my route in the NFL isn’t like his,” Epps said. “I’ve been bouncing around.”
Just a little less than a month after Epps was released by Indianapolis, the Jets reached out to ask if he was interested in joining their practice squad. He agreed and has been with the team ever since.
“I love everything about being a Jet, man,” he said. “From the food that we get here, to the practices, to the facility.”
Sunday night against Carolina, the Richmond, Va., native, was on the field for 57 of the Jets’ 69 offensive plays (83 percent). The high percentage was partially due to TEs Dustin Keller
and Josh Baker both going down with injuries earlier in the game. Regardless, Epps was productive catching two passes for 34 yards. He said the experience was fun, and honestly it should have been considering it turned out to be the most action he’s had in a game since entering the NFL.
“I think it went all right,” Epps said. “I could have done some blocking things a little better. From a mental standpoint, I think I did all of the things correct. I don’t think it was too many mental errors. It’s just technique things that I need to work on.”
As the Jets face off against Philadelphia on Thursday night in their preseason finale, Epps isn’t anticipating any additional pressure. He aspires to build off his performance last week and is excited about having another opportunity to spend a significant amount of time on the field as opposed to the sidelines.
“I mean, I’m just trying to stick with it, get better and just trying to find a team to stick with,” he said.
The expression really does define No. 83. And very shortly it will be known if the Jets choose to stick with Epps.