Waddle goes from unknown to NFL starter

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matt Moore found the biggest surprise in a recruit completely by accident.

He was in his first year recruiting Houston for Texas Tech and was driving around the city a little bit lost. Then a friend called him and told him to head an hour or so west out to a small town called Columbus.

When Moore walked into the school, he saw a mass of a man walking down the halls of Columbus High School. Moore didn't understand, since he knew nothing about who he had been told to find.

That was the first time Moore, now at Louisiana Tech, saw Detroit Lions rookie offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle.

"It's one of those things as a recruiter, you go, it's one of two things,” Moore said. "Either I've got a steal on my hands or there's something I don't know. When you see a guy like that, you say, 'OK, something's going on here.'

"Because you're looking around going, 'OK, he's huge. He's long. He's athletic. Why is A&M, why is Texas, why is Oklahoma, why are all these small schools not down here in the middle of this thing?' "

No one was in the middle of anything except in the middle of nowhere Columbus. Waddle was anticipating going to the University of Houston -- one of the closest universities to his home -- when Texas Tech became interested.

In his high school offense, all Waddle did was pull as his team ran the ball. But he liked the idea of playing in the Big 12. So he signed, even though no one -- not even Texas Tech's coaches -- knew what they were getting. They needed players who could pass protect and nobody knew how that would work out.

"Nobody was really sure when I brought him in,” Moore said. "You'd watch his high school film and he was just so big and they had him pulling and trying to pull up on people and stuff.

"For him to turn out the way he did, it was definitely a huge surprise.”

The surprises started during Waddle's first week of practice in college. Waddle was thrown against one of the Red Raiders' best defensive ends.

He mauled him. Still, Texas Tech's coaches planned on redshirting him. Throughout the season, injuries decimated the offensive line. With no other options and Texas A&M the next opponent, Moore and Mike Leach decided to start Waddle, ending his redshirt.

His matchup that week: Von Miller.

"We were like, 'Waddle, he's our only chance,' " Moore said. "So we go into the game with all these plans, we're going to use the running backs, we're going to chip him, we're going to do this, we're going to do that. We go out there early with all these plans to help him.

"And the kid, he does a great job against him. We ended up not having to do all that stuff.”

Miller had three tackles and two sacks that day. Not bad considering Waddle had not played before. In reality, it was the beginning of his path to the NFL. He started every game of his sophomore, junior and senior seasons with Texas Tech.

To help prepare him for games during his junior season, Moore would line up scout team defensive ends and linebackers a foot offsides so Waddle could get a better feel during practices. If those same players lined up onside, they'd be crushed by Waddle's long arms and massive hands every time.

That length and power eventually caught Detroit's attention. But when Waddle was leaving college, he had about the same interest level as entering college. Not much. Not enough to be drafted.

After talking with NFL coaches, Moore thought this might happen. After all, LaAdrian Waddle, in many ways, has always been an unknown.

"A little bit, yeah,” Waddle said. "But that's why I have to come in. People have their opinions. I don't know why some people thought what they thought. Obviously I came in and showed the coaching staff what I'm capable of, showed the other guys and they trust what I can do in my abilities.”

Waddle always believed in himself, something the Detroit coaches noticed when they brought him in for a pre-draft workout on the advice of area scout Cary Conklin. Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said Conklin pushed for Waddle extensively.

Detroit considered drafting him, but eventually passed. Surprised he was still available, Detroit quickly signed him.

"He's a big man that can move his feet,” Washburn said. "The thing with him is he came out of a passing offense at Texas Tech so he can pass block. You can't walk into this door in our offense without being able to pass block.

"That was one thing that stood out.”

Then there was his demeanor. He is eternally calm. Nothing affected him. Add that to his size and he became an under the radar prospect for Detroit.

Throughout the preseason, he became a factor and eventually made the Lions as their fourth tackle. In his typical nature, he called his mom, Christine Coleman, and nonchalantly told her the news.

"She gave me the big congrats,” Waddle said. "I actually told her and she gave out a little scream of excitement and joy. She was definitely happy.”

Then, Waddle's path to the field unfolded just like in college.

Midway through his first season with Detroit, starting right tackle Jason Fox got injured. Then left tackle Riley Reiff went down. So all of a sudden, in the middle of a year where he wasn't expected to do much, Waddle became a starter.

And just like in college, he doesn't appear to be coming out of the lineup any time soon. Because throughout his entire career, Waddle has been oversized and underrated and every time, all he's done is won the job and continued to play.