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Rookie season recollections: Former BYU star Chris Wilcox on his first year in the NFL

Drafted by the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wilcox was waived before the first game, picked up by the Indianapolis Colts, and spent the 2021 season on the Colts’ practice squad

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Chris Wilcox in action during an NFL preseason game in 2021.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Chris Wilcox in action during an NFL preseason game in 2021. Wilcox was waived by the Bucs and signed by the Indianapolis Colts and spent the 2021 season on the Colts’ practice squad.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

Editor’s note: First in an occasional series looking at the rookie seasons of the five BYU players selected in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were eight days away from their 2021 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Bucs rookie cornerback Chris Wilcox was feeling OK about his chances of making the 53-man roster as a seventh-round draft pick out of BYU, even though he had suffered an injury early in training camp that cost him valuable reps throughout the preseason.

Then his phone rang.

The Bucs were waiving him, they said, but planned to put him on their practice squad so he should go ahead and find an apartment in the area. However, a few hours later, just as he was getting ready to leave his hotel room and sign a long-term lease on an apartment in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, his agent called.

“I got myself a car, a Kia Stinger. I didn’t go too crazy. It was definitely something I needed, just to get me around places. Other than that, not much. I am acting like I am living off of a stipend check from BYU. I try not to spend too much.” — Indianapolis Colts’ CB Chris Wilcox on his spending habits

Wilcox, who had played 115 total snaps at outside cornerback and recorded four tackles, had been claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts.

“So I called the lady at the apartment complex, told her I wasn’t going to need the apartment after all, then packed my bags and flew to Indy that night,” Wilcox said. “Everything happened really quickly.”

Wilcox’s time on the Colts’ 53-man roster was short-lived, however. They signed free agent safety Andrew Sendejo on Sept. 14, two days after losing 28-16 to Seattle and waived Wilcox, then put him on their practice squad.

“That’s life in the NFL,” Wilcox said. “You can never, ever take anything for granted. Your (status) can change in a heartbeat. You just work as hard as you can and stay humble and grateful.”

Wilcox remained on the Colts’ practice squad the entire season as Indianapolis went 9-8 and failed to make the playoffs. He was one of 14 players who signed a reserve/future contract with the club on Jan. 10, 2022, and has been living in Indy and training daily ever since.

Wilcox said reserve/future contracts allow clubs to sign players who were not on the active roster but keep them around with hopes that they can have a role in the upcoming season. He will be with the Colts until training camp starts, attending OTAs and the like.

Wilcox recently spent a half-hour talking with the Deseret News from his home in Indianapolis, recounting the highs and lows from his rookie season in the NFLand his expectations for the future. Here are some of his memories:

On why he didn’t play an extra year at BYU, as allowed by the NCAA’s COVID-19 rules:

“I decided to declare (and bypass playing in the Boca Raton Bowl) because I was 23 years old,” he said. “I was supposed to leave the year before, but I had to redshirt because of the injuries. Those made me stay another year. And then, I just felt like it was time to move on.”

On what it was like hearing his name called as the 251st overall pick, by the Super Bowl champs:

“The draft process was a crazy, surreal experience. It was cool to hear my name called, all that. You get over there with all the other rookies, and you start rookie minicamp and kinda just get right into it. Going through it, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like a freshman all over again, like I was back at BYU.”

On if he was surprised:

“Tampa Bay was the first team to get in contact with me. But it wasn’t like we talked all the time, or anything like that. I talked to a lot of teams — more than half the league.”

On his ‘Welcome to the NFL’ moment:

“Probably seeing Tom Brady and Mike Evans for the first time, guys like that. Another big moment for me, too, was when I lined up against Mike Evans. I was like, ‘Man, this is cool.’ It was surreal. I actually had a pass breakup one of the first times I went against him. They tried to throw a fade ball and I broke it up.”

On playing in exhibition games with the Buccaneers:

“We played the Bengals, Titans and Texans. They rotated a lot of guys in, so I didn’t get to play the entire game. I just went out and tried to show them what I could do. Teams didn’t throw at me too much, but I made a couple tackles here and there.”

On spending the season on the Colts’ practice squad:

“I went to the games, to everything. I didn’t dress, of course. But if there were any injuries, I could have been pulled up. That is another thing I learned: even though you are on the practice squad, it is like you are still on the team, so you gotta be prepared to play all the time.”

On his first big purchase as a pro; according to Spotrac.com, Wilcox has earned $275,839as a practice-squad player: 

“I got myself a car, a Kia Stinger. I didn’t go too crazy. It was definitely something I needed, just to get me around places. Other than that, not much. I am acting like I am living off of a stipend check from BYU. I try not to spend too much.”

Wilcox said he drove his mom’s old car at BYU, a Kia Optima, which is now driven by his younger brother.

On living in Indianapolis: 

“It actually reminds me of Utah a little bit. Of course, no mountains and stuff like that, but the scenery is cool and the city gives me Salt Lake City-type of vibes. I live about 28 minutes from downtown, and I really enjoy it. It is a really nice place.”

On if the NFL lifestyle is what he thought it would be:

“You have a whole different view of what you thought was going to happen. But I have realized that even though you are a practice squad player, it is a blessing, because I have seen people come in for a week or two, and then they are gone. They don’t even get a chance at practice squad. As long as you have a job, it is a blessing. That’s how I view it right now.”

On what the Colts like about him:

“I think my speed, size and tackling ability. I am a tall corner. I feel like that’s what coaches in the league really want right now, especially with the big, tall receivers in the league. With how fast everyone is nowadays, that’s definitely one of my strengths.”

On if he had to do any crazy stuff as a rookie, initiation-type stuff:

“With the Colts, we had a rookie costume contest. That was wild. A lot of times, if you are the rookie in the position room, you have to get the snacks every week, for all the meetings. … Luckily I didn’t have to pay for a rookie dinner. But when you are buying snacks and all that, that is coming out of your pocket.

So all that stuff adds that. I haven’t had to pay for an $8,000 dinner (like other rookies have) and all that, thankfully.”

On if teammates ask him about playing for and attending BYU:

“All the time. All the time. Guys are always asking, ‘How was BYU. How was it?’ I tell them my experience at BYU was cool, even as a nonmember (of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints),” he said. “It wasn’t like a party school or anything like that. I tell them at the end of the day, everybody at BYU was really nice and all that stuff.

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BYU defensive back Chris Wilcox defends Arizona wide receiver Shawn Poindexter in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“They will ask, ‘Is this true about BYU? Is that true?’ And I am like, ‘Yeah, that is true, that’s not true, depending on what it is,” he continued. “I tell them the honor code is (a real thing, and enforced), but that’s what I signed up for. I explain it and clear up misconceptions.”

On his prospects for making the Colts’ 53-man roster in 2022: 

“I feel fairly confident about making it this year, because you have to believe in yourself. I just have to keep working for it and pushing for it. They don’t really keep a lot of DBs on the 53 in the NFL.

“But I know what to expect now. This is my second year. I am not going to go out there feeling like a freshman. I have learned a lot. The difference between college and the NFL is a whole different ball game, just with football IQ and all that. You can see why some people make so many plays. They are smart and they pick up on little tendencies and all that. I feel like I have gained all that. We will see.”

On what he wants to do if football doesn’t work out:

“I want to get into the music scene. That would definitely be a dream of mine. I still have my laptop. When I was at BYU I had the whole setup with my microphones and my speakers. … When I have some free time I will get a couple beats in, but I don’t have as much time here. I come home tired.”

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Houston Texans wide receiver Chris Moore runs a route against Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Chris Wilcox during preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Houston. The former BYU standout was waved by the Bucs prior to the regular season but was picked up the Colts and spent the 2021 season on Indianapolis’ practice squad.

Justin Rex, Associated Press