Jordan Akins turns from baseball for chance at NFL

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UCF tight end Jordan Akins is playing for the South team at the Senior Bowl. He played pro baseball in the Texas Rangers system before returning to football after starring at Union Grove High. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter

Jordan Akins knew when to stop chasing his dream of being a major league baseball player.

Now, the tight end from Central Florida is set to chase his aspirations to be a professional football player.

Akins will take the next step on his new journey by playing for the South team in the 69th annual Senior Bowl on Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Coming out of Union Grove High School in 2010, the multi-sport star was drafted in the third round by the Texas Rangers.

“I always had the mindset that I wanted to be back in college at the age of 22 if I wasn’t in the majors,” Akins said Tuesday.

He received a $350,000 signing bonus from the Rangers, but baseball didn’t happen as quickly as Akins wanted. So, the all-state quarterback and wide receiver honored his commitment to UCF three years later.

“Just the process,” the 6-foot-4, 249-pound Akins said. “I wasn’t progressing as (fast) as I thought I should.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn watched with general manager Thomas Dimitroff from the sidelines as Akins and the South team went through their first practice Tuesday.

“It’s a sign of the re-set to 2018,” Quinn said. “Likely, somebody here will be on our team. I think of it that way.”

Akins sought the advice of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who also played both sports before returning exclusively to football.

“One year he did spring training with us,” Akins said. “He talked to the team and I asked him when he knew if it was the right time to give up baseball. He told me that I would know.”

Akins played for the the Rangers’ Rookie League team and advanced to play with the Spokane Indians, the short-season Single-A affiliate, and the Single-A Hickory Crawdads. In 2013, he hit .218 in 117 games between Spokane and Hickory.

“I was drafted as a center fielder,” Akins said. “Eventually, I played right field or left field, depending on where the ball was going to be going.”

The baseball dream ended in 2014 and he enrolled at UCF.

“The key part was that I just had that gut feeling,” Akins said. “I wasn’t progressing like I had hoped. Just the business behind the game. You can get stuck in the minors for a very long time.”

Akins started his college career as a wide receiver for UCF. He caught 12 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns in 2014. He caught 14 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. He moved to tight end in 2016 and caught 23 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he had 32 catches for 515 yards and four touchdowns for the undefeated Knights (15-0), the self-proclaimed national champions.

“There have been about 20 teams that have reached out to me about him,” said Frederick Lyles, Akins’ Atlanta-based agent. “Jordan has a tremendous upside.”

Lyles also represented former UCF star A.J. Bouye, who signed a five-year, $67.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.

“He was a pro baseball player, and now he’s going to be a pro football player,” Lyles said. “That’s amazing. He’s a true athlete.”

Akins and Bouye are friends and Steve Bouye, the father, has mentored Akins.

“He just took me under his wings,” Akins said.

Akins said the transition to tight end has been seamless in the passing game.

“Running routes and using my speed,” said Akins, when asked about his best attributes. “I have good hands. I can run after the catch.”

Blocking was from the end of the line was new to Akins.

“Hand in the dirt,” he said. “Learning the fronts and schemes.”

Akins looks forward to showing off his talents to NFL teams.

“My skill set, I want to show them I can play with anybody,” Akins said. “The best in the world or in the country. I have to show them that I can block and well as run routes.”

As for making it to the NFL:

Akins believes. “The best part of my game is getting downfield and catching on seam routes,” he said. “Out-breaking routes, and I can work the middle very well. Just getting the ball in my hands and making plays.”

And so do others. “He’s a big body who can threaten the seam,” Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage said. “He can get in and out of his breaks. He’s got good speed. One team specifically called and asked if we were going to be able to get him in. Once we confirmed that he graduated, we were able to get him here.”

Akins believes that UCF is the true national champion after being excluded from the college football playoff system.

UCF beat Auburn, which beat both finalists Alabama and Georgia, Akins was quick to point out.

“Of course, we worked our tails off,” Akins said. “We just weren’t presented with the opportunity in the playoffs. We definitely feel that we are No. 1 in the country and can compete with anyone in the country. I think we proved that in the Peach Bowl when we beat Auburn.”