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Wearing Charlie Sanders' No. 88, T.J. Hockenson Knows He Has Big Shoes To Fill

"It's an incredible honor," he said.

May 14, 2019 - 6:07 pm

As a tight end drafted eighth overall, there's already pressure on T.J. Hockenson to deliver. Tight ends taken in the first round haven't fared so well around here. 

And now Hockenson will be compared to the best tight end in Lions history after choosing to wear the same number as Hall-of-Famer Charlie Sanders: 88.

"It’s an incredible honor," Hockenson said on Tuesday. "Charlie Sanders was a great player here. Just looking back, him being a Hall of Famer and doing a lot for this community and a lot for this organization, it's a special number. It's a big honor for me to be able to wear it. Just to be able to carry on his legacy, it really means a ton." 

A four-time All-Pro, Sanders retired in 1977 as the Lions franchise leader in receptions. He still ranks among the top 10 in receptions (336), yards (4,817) and touchdowns (31). 

The Lions never formally retired No. 88, but few players have worn it since. Hockenson, who wore No. 38 in college, will be the first since wide receiver Mike Williams -- another top-10 pick -- in 2006. 

Sanders passed away in 2015. His family approved of putting No. 88 back in circulation when the Lions reached out after this year's draft, according to the Free Press

Hockenson completed rookie minicamp last week, and the thrill of being an NFL player is still setting in. Asked if he's experienced a 'Wow moment' in his young tenure with the Lions, he said, "I’m playing football, that’s my wow moment. I get to come in today and my fingerprint works (to get into the building). I’m grateful as heck that I get to be here. This is a fun time. I get to play a game for a living. How cool is that?" 

In particular, Hockenson said he's enjoyed working with Matt Patricia, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, tight ends coach Chris White, along with GM Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood. 

"There’s so many people here that are great people and they want just the best for you. They want to be a great team, we want to win -- don't get me wrong -- but they want the best for you as a person, and you can tell that. But I'm just thankful I get to play this game for a living," he said. "That’s the coolest part about this."