Joe Davidson

Elk Grove’s Kenny Wiggins finds a way to stay in NFL

San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Kenny Wiggins (79) on the bench in the second half against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sept. 27.
San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Kenny Wiggins (79) on the bench in the second half against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sept. 27. The Associated Press

Kenny Wiggins was ready to move on, out of the trenches and into the television booth.

The Elk Grove High School and Fresno State graduate logged four years in the anonymous world of practice-squad duty in the NFL without the benefit of a single game snap. He pondered more than once that if there wasn’t enough room in football for his 6-foot-6, 315-pound frame, maybe there was elsewhere.

“I’ve got the face for TV, so I was ready,” Wiggins said this week with a laugh. “I thought my football career was over all of last year. I was sitting at home, working out every day, trying to keep the dream alive, and thank God I did.”

The San Diego Chargers are thankful, too.

Wiggins, the ultimate tale of football perseverance, has started the past three games for San Diego, rotating between left guard and right tackle. He expects to start again Sunday when the Chargers host the Raiders and admits to still being a bit numb to the whole experience, of charging onto the field in gear and keeping life-after-football on hold.

“I am beyond excited and beyond proud,” Wiggins said by phone this week. “It’s crazy, and it’s about time.”

Wiggins’ career portfolio revealed a versatile player, but his NFL experience consisted only of practice participation. He was a member of a team, but not really. He would practice and study film, but come kickoff, Wiggins would stand on the sideline in a sweat suit, enviously cheering on teammates. Practice-team players also make considerably less money than players on the 53-man roster. This season, the practice squad minimum is $6,600 per week – up $300 from 2014.

“I knew I could play in this league,” Wiggins said. “Half the battle is being in the right place at the right time. There are so many different variables to consider because the NFL brings in so many new guys – drafted guys, free agents. Undrafted guys like me ... it’s tough. I pride myself in still being the same guy. I never stopped working.”

Wiggins, 27, said his yo-yo, vagabond experiences wore on others, too.

“It’s been really hard on my wife, Jennifer,” Wiggins said. “You spend so much time apart during the season, and not knowing what was going to happen was hard on her, too, not just me.”

A sixth-grade teacher in Fresno the past three years, Jennifer Wiggins just turned in her notice. She is heading to San Diego. Her husband is on the active roster.

“So exciting,” Kenny Wiggins said.

Wiggins entered the NFL in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. He spent time with the Ravens, 49ers and Chargers in offseason programs or on the practice squad. He was cut, re-signed and cut again, over and over, as teams shuttled players in and out. Brought back to San Diego this last offseason, Wiggins urged coaches in training camp to let him practice at every position on the offensive line. When he was given the chance, he played guard, tackle and center in preseason games.

“That was something I felt I really needed to do,” Wiggins said. “San Diego went through five centers last year. I’m that emergency guy now.”

Watching with pride from afar has been Dave Hoskins, Wiggins’ high school coach.

“I’d watch a Chargers game, looking for Kenny, and then I’d go, ‘Oh Lord, there he is, starting,’ ” Hoskins said. “I’m so happy for him. He’s paid his dues.”

Hoskins said Wiggins exhibited a desire to excel when he played for Elk Grove, where he earned Bee All-Metro honors.

“We had two weightlifting sessions for players, 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. – take your pick,” Hoskins recalled. “Kenny did both. That’s how badly he wanted it.”

Wiggins wasn’t a big recruit at Elk Grove – “he was a puppy growing into his body,” Hoskins said – but he found a home at Fresno State, where he played for the Bulldogs from 2008 to 2010. Wiggins credits Hoskins for his development and his mother, Suzanne, for raising him.

“I knew working hard in high school was the one way I could get a scholarship,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t want my mom to have to pay for college. A scholarship was my gift to her. She’s my biggest fan.”

Wiggins said he cherishes every practice, every game and every snap. He wants to return to the Chargers next season, but he is also thinking long term. Wiggins has done sports radio work in Fresno, and he has an internship with Fox Sports in San Diego scheduled for the offseason.

“The NFL is definitely a business, and I learned that the hard way the last few years,” Wiggins said. “I’m enjoying this while I can.”

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