Tyler Conklin addresses a group of football players at Macomb L’Anse Creuse North after a workout July 11. A 2013 graduate of LCN, Conklin starred for the Crusaders and Central Michigan University before being selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft.

Tyler Conklin addresses a group of football players at Macomb L’Anse Creuse North after a workout July 11. A 2013 graduate of LCN, Conklin starred for the Crusaders and Central Michigan University before being selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Unique journey leads LCN grad to the NFL

By: Timothy Pontzer | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published August 13, 2018


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — On a warm, humid July morning, Tyler Conklin was back where it all began.

As he has done countless times this summer, Conklin was back running routes and doing drills on the same turf field where he helped make history.

A 2013 graduate of Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, Conklin returned to his alma mater to help prepare for his future as a professional football player while also giving back to the current crop of Crusaders.

“I like giving back, and it’s something I pride myself on,” Conklin said after a July 19 workout at LCN. “So many great athletes have come through here, but not everyone has been able to succeed at the next level for one reason or another. Thankfully, I’ve made it and I know I took a weird road, but I just want to show kids that it’s possible.”

Conklin’s journey started with a standout pair of seasons on the gridiron. As LCN’s top wideout, Conklin helped the Crusaders earn the most wins in program history during the 2012 season. The team went 8-3, including the program’s first playoff victory.

“That was a special year. We hosted our first-ever playoff game and won it,” Conklin recalled. “I think LCN gets looked down a lot because a lot of people think we don’t have good athletes, but we always compete in the (Macomb Area Conference). We showed everyone what we could do.”

Anthony Kiner took over as coach of the LCN football program before Conklin’s senior year. Still at the helm, he recalls fondly what Conklin brought in his first year on the job.

“I could see early on that he could become a great football player at the next level and possibly beyond that,” Kiner said.

Conklin also helped to make history on the hardwood. During his senior season, LCN boys basketball went 22-4 and advanced to the Class A state semifinals. It marked the first and only time the Crusaders have reached that round.

“That was huge for this school,” Conklin said. “To make it there and play at the Breslin (Center), that meant a lot to this community. The banner is still hanging in the gym, and it’s probably my proudest accomplishment here.”

Conklin scored 22 points in the state semifinal loss to Saginaw High.

Basketball was his passion at the time, and he accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Northwood University, despite getting attention for football.

“It meant a lot to be the first person in my family to have that opportunity in college with a full-ride scholarship,” Conklin said. “I did so much work in my life for basketball (that) I didn’t feel comfortable giving up all that after just one year of successful football.”

Conklin played one semester at Northwood but rediscovered the itch for football.

“My goal was always to play in the NBA,” Conklin said. “But one day I was in Buffalo Wild Wings, and I was watching a Big Ten football game. I was watching the tight ends and I was like, ‘I know I can do that.’ After I switched my mind to playing football, that instantly became my focus and something I knew I could do.”

Kiner agreed. A 2003 graduate of Western Michigan University, Kiner said that Conklin reminded him of a former teammate on the Broncos who would go on to the NFL.

“When I saw Tyler, I always told him how he reminded me of Tony Scheffler,” Kiner said. “They were both guys with the mentality of a wideout, but the body of a tight end.”

While at Western, Kiner played for a staff that included Dan Enos. Now the quarterbacks coach at Alabama, Enos was the coach at Central Michigan from 2010 to 2014.

“They had been looking at him already, and he was able to walk on there,” Kiner said.

For the first two years of his career with the Chippewas, Conklin had to pay his own way before earning a scholarship as a junior.

“My first year was definitely interesting. I had to prove myself all over again,” Conklin said. “I basically had to sit out a year and a half with the transfer … and then I was playing wideout and defensive end. They moved (me) to tight end, and I was able to put myself on the map a little bit.”

In the 2016 season, Conklin recorded 42 receptions for 560 yards while scoring six touchdowns. Before his senior year, he broke his foot during the first day of camp, causing him to miss five games. Despite that, he put up 28 catches for 406 yards and five touchdowns to earn a spot in the Senior Bowl.

An annual senior showcase for NFL scouts, Conklin caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown, helping earn a spot at the annual draft combine.

“Even after breaking my foot, I was still focused on hitting all of my goals,” Conklin said. “I had them all written in my locker: Make it to the Senior Bowl, combine and get drafted. Only six tight ends got to go to the Senior Bowl, so I was extremely excited about that. Knowing where I had come from, it meant a lot to go to the combine, and I did well there.”

While he graduated from LCN at 185 pounds, Conklin entered the combine at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds. His performance garnered interest from several teams. 

“I talked to a lot of teams, but Dallas, Detroit, New Orleans and Minnesota all made it known they might pick me,” Conklin said. “I honestly thought I would get drafted a little bit sooner.”

In total, 11 tight ends were selected before Conklin was taken by the Vikings in the fifth round (157th overall). Minnesota traded up with the New York Jets to select him. For someone who had started tackle football in elementary school with the Macomb Barracudas, it was a dream come true.

“Honestly, there’s only so much you can control. I didn’t expect to see so many guys taken before me, but that happens for a reason,” Conklin said. “Minnesota is the perfect fit for me, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll be able to learn from a guy like Kyle Rudolph and we have a great roster. I get to come home once a year and play (against the Lions) at Ford Field.”

Conklin reported to the Vikings training camp July 25.

“I’m excited to go in there and earn my stripes. I’m not going to talk a lot, just listen and try to earn respect,” Conklin said. 

Conklin used the workouts at LCN as an opportunity to prepare for the Twin Cities while also passing down knowledge.

“He taught us to work on the little things,” said LCN junior receiver Xavion Smith. “It’s awesome to get it from a guy going to the NFL.”

Fellow junior wideout Colin Taylor-Johnson agreed.

“(Conklin) immediately saw that I needed to work on my footwork,” Taylor-Johnson said. “He really worked with me and now when I go home, I can work on it and get better.”

Logan Simons is a junior tight end. He hopes to follow in Conklin’s footsteps.

“I’m kind of in his shoes now,” Simons said. “Some of the pointers he gave have already really paid off.”

Kiner was thrilled to see his former star return and teach his current group.

“It’s huge for our program, and it’s just great to see Tyler be willing to do it. It makes me so proud,” Kiner said. “When I first got here, that’s what I was preaching. We’re not just here to win, but to create a family.

“Tyler is a fantastic player, but he’s an even better person and this really shows that.”

Conklin hopes he can inspire the next generation.

“Basketball is a great game. … You can play basketball when you’re 50 in an old man’s league. But you can never strap up the pads again once you quit football. I want these kids to realize that,” Conklin said. “There’s nothing like it, and I plan on playing for as long as possible.”