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Dontayvion Wicks uses tragedy as ‘motivation’ in rookie season
(Credit: Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Dontayvion Wicks uses tragedy as ‘motivation’ in rookie season

GREEN BAY, Wis. (BVM) – Dontayvion Wicks was selected 159th overall in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Following a strong collegiate career at Virginia, Wicks joined a Packers organization looking to add depth to what was a thin wide receiver room in recent years.

While Wicks earned rave reviews early on during his time in Green Bay, his rookie training camp was ultimately derailed by a concussion and a hamstring injury. The 22-year-old’s NFL career started slow as a result, but since then, he has shown the speed, strength and athleticism that the Packers saw prior to the draft.

Wicks has produced 40 receiving yards or more in six of his last eight games and had six-reception games when the Packers needed it most in two of the team’s final four regular season contests.

Dontayvion Wicks Green Bay Packers NFL rookie season Virginia Cavaliers
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) celebrates scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Chicago Bears during their football game Sunday, January 7, 2024, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK)

On the season, Wicks has 39 receptions for 581 yards and four touchdowns, averaging nearly 15 yards per catch. While those are relatively modest season-long numbers, the 6-foot-1 wideout has emerged as a go-to target for budding quarterback Jordan Love. 

That was on full display as Wicks had arguably the best game of his pro career in Week 18 against the Bears where the Packers needed a win to reach the playoffs. They did so, taking down Chicago 17-9 as Wicks caught six passes for 61 yards and the game’s two lone touchdowns.

Wicks’ incredible performance set up a date for the Packers with the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round. However, for the rookie wide receiver, the Week 18 game, and his entire rookie season, has meant so much more than football.

Wicks grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was a big Saints fan, idolizing former New Orleans stars like Reggie Bush and Marques Colston. Playing at Plaquemine High School, Wicks developed into a three-star recruit and eventually committed to Virginia.

After playing sparingly as a freshman and missing his second year due to injury, Wicks had a historic season for the Cavaliers in 2021, making 57 receptions for a school-record 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns. 

The talented wideout returned to Charlottesville for the 2022 season. Although he had some nice games early in the year, that’s also when everything changed for Wicks, his team and the entirety of the University of Virginia.

On Nov. 13, 2022, a mass shooting took place on Virginia’s campus in a charter bus returning from a class trip to Washington D.C., killing three people while injuring two others. The three victims were D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler, and Lavel Davis Jr., all members of the Cavaliers’ football team, with the latter two being wide receivers like Wicks.

Virginia canceled the remainder of its football season as a result. Despite the tragic situation, Wicks and his teammates moved forward, but they have never forgotten those involved in the incident.

Dontayvion Wicks Green Bay Packers NFL rookie season Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (3) catches the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Storm Duck (29) defends in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. (Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

While competing in the 2023 Senior Bowl, Wicks and teammate Anthony Johnson honored Chandler by wearing his No. 15 during the game – the first live game action on the gridiron for both since the incident occurred. Wicks also donned the No. 1 of Davis Jr. during practice that week, while Johnson did the same with the No. 41 of Perry.

“Shoutout to Lavel, doing it for them, those guys,” Wicks said after a Senior Bowl practice. “Having them on my heart every play, that’s also what drives me out here, just to go be my best for them.”

The talented wide receiver has continued to honor his former teammates during his short time in the NFL. In the Packers’ November home victory over the Chargers – played just over a year after the shooting had occurred – Wicks wrote the numbers of all three of the victims on his cleats.

He went on to have arguably the best game of his career to that point, catching three passes for 91 yards in a game that sparked the Packers’ strong finish to the season.

Despite battling through some late-season injuries, Wicks saved his best for last with his two-touchdown outing in Week 18. The performance supplanted the Chargers’ contest as the best game of his NFL career and provided much more meaning than that for the rookie as that Sunday would have been Davis Jr.’s 22nd birthday.

“It was big time for me,” Wicks said to the media at his locker after the game. “One of my partners that passed away last year, it was his birthday today, so it was a big one for that and to help the team get into the playoffs because we all believed when everybody didn’t.”

After catching his first touchdown against the Bears, Wicks looked up to the sky in memory of Davis Jr. Following his second touchdown catch, Wicks shed tears.

“I had a heavy heart coming into today,” Wicks added. “I know he’d be playing through me while I’m out there, so it just gave me that motivation, that extra chip on my shoulder to go out and make big plays.

“I cried on the sideline after the second one. It was big time, I helped the team and I made some plays.”

Dontayvion Wicks Green Bay Packers NFL rookie season Virginia Cavaliers
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) runs after a catch as Pittsburgh Steelers safety Keanu Neal (31) chases during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh won 23-19. (Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Wicks’ college career ended in a way that no one would have ever imagined. However, the tragedy has seemingly added extra motivation to a rookie season not many expected from the fifth-round pick. 

The suddenly surging Packers now have a chance to showcase their young offense on a national stage in the wild-card round in Dallas. It would be no surprise to see Wicks have another big game on Sunday afternoon, and going forward, he might just have what it takes to become the top receiver for one of the most storied franchises in the NFL as the memory of his fallen teammates remains with him.