Wiggins has had quite the journey so far. To fully understand where he’s come from – and where he is going – one must start at the beginning, when he fell in love with the game.
Lionell Wiggins grew up in Compton, California. It isn’t the safest place around, but Lionell used sports as an outlet to stay out of trouble:
“There were only two ways out of Compton: either sports or music. Otherwise you’re headed to the other side, filled with gang violence.”
Wiggins was a multi-sport athlete growing up, and ultimately found a passion for the game of football due to the close family members who also played the game.
“Growing up, my brother played football, so I was always watching him. That inspired me to press on and pursue a career in football. For me, I saw it was my golden ticket to get out of the hood, and provide for my family.”
Interestingly enough, Lionell’s first love was basketball. One of his biggest inspirations early on was Kobe Bryant. While he was committed to basketball at first, football slowly but surely began to play a bigger role in his life, and ultimately became his dream.
Lionell played at Fairmont Prep High School, where he impressed at multiple positions. He was utilized early on as a wide receiver, and showed quite a bit of promise there. His defensive performances were strong as well, which led to interest from a multitude of colleges and universities coming out of Fairmont.
The San Jose Experience
While Wiggins played football, basketball, and baseball, the offers he got out of high school for football led him to head in that direction. Lionell began his college career at San Jose City College.
“I went the JUCO route, pretty much to get out of the city. My brother was also a coach at the time at San Jose City, so I went there and made the most of it. Being a JUCO athlete taught me more about what hard work really is. We were all there with one goal: to get to the next level. Being around a bunch of dogs kind of brought the dog out of me, kept me grounded, and kept me humble.”
Lionell was thrown for a loop right off the bat at San Jose City, as there was a mixup regarding his eligibility. An injury kept him sidelined the first season – but the school thought that he had already played two seasons, when he only participated in one. This caused him to miss the first six games of the 2017 season.
Unfortunately, during this time Lionell Wiggins would lose his mother to a long and hard fought battle with cancer, which was a difficult and emotional event to deal with.
“Growing up, I saw my mom struggle…and she was a single mother. Seeing all the hard work my mom had to put in to provide for me was inspiring. That made me want to pursue professional sports, and make it to the NFL so I could take care of my mom. Still to this day, I try to put into my head that she’s still here, and that I’m doing this for her and my family.”
After a couple of years spent at San Jose City, he then transferred to San Jose State. This turned out to be another excellent opportunity for Wiggins:
“My brother was also an alumni from San Jose State. My mindset was to continue on his legacy at the school. I went there, and made an impact on special teams, learning quite a bit about who I was as a player.”
At San Jose State, Lionell was able to fill more than one role for the school. At times, he’d be lined up as a defensive end – but, he could also drop into coverage when needed.
Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lionell Wiggins was stuck at a crossroads. He had applied for Grad School in 2020, but was denied, which was an obstacle he would have to overcome.
Heading towards the 2021 season, Lionell had more than one offer, but needed to figure out which college to attend. Ultimately, he settled for Northern Arizona, due to the familiarity he had with the coaching staff.
“I took a visit, and I really liked the atmosphere from a defensive line aspect at NAU. I felt the love from them, which led me to going there. It was a good experience. I got playing time, and felt like I made the most of the minutes I had.”
Wiggins wrapped up the 2021 collegiate season with six tackles for NAU, alongside a TFL and a sack. With Northern Arizona, Lionell was able to fully commit to being a defensive lineman. In prior stints he played at multiple defensive positions, but settled into his role smoothly at NAU.
“Once I got to Northern Arizona, they told me that I was a true defensive end. They wanted my hands in the dirt. Getting comfortable with that made me realize that this was my true position.”
It’s been a journey for Lionell since his time in college. He’s been in multiple XFL showcases over the past year, and also participated in the now-defunct MLFB. Wiggins was slated to be a part of the Virginia Armada, but the league shut down before any games were played.
“That was a wild time. One day, after practice, we got back to our hotel rooms, and our cards weren’t working. We then had to sit in the lobby for 8 to 10 hours as everyone was just trying to figure things out. We saw coaches leaving and had no idea what was going on. Eventually our coach (Terry Shea) broke the news that the league was shutting down due to financial issues. The other three teams were sleeping in the stadium on the bleachers that night, but Shea didn’t want to do that to us. So he paid for us all to have another night at the hotel to figure out how to travel back home.”
Lionell then got a call from the Quad City Steamwheelers of the IFL, and was poised to have a solid 2022 campaign with the team.
“I got to the team, and had an amazing camp. Pretty much playing like it was my last opportunity. I did everything I could, and made the final cuts after training camp. However, the day before the first game, I got sent off to the CIF. I ended up playing for the Southwest Kansas Storm. I was able to fill in and do some impressive things there.”
Arena football is not an easy gig, especially for defensive lineman. In a game that moves at such a rapid pace, lineman have to be extremely quick to make their moves, as the ball is typically out of the quarterback’s hands sooner than some would expect.
“It’s a journey playing indoor football. As a defensive lineman, it’s ten times harder for you. It’s tough to get to the quarterback when the ball is coming out in 1-2 seconds. When you watch arena football, it’s meant for offense, it’s meant for receivers and quarterbacks to make those big plays. It was a learning experience, and I enjoyed making the most of it.”
The Road Ahead
For Lionell, he’s had quite a few challenges presented along the way. In 2022, one of his best friends Dejon Packer tragically passed away. Packer and Wiggins grew up playing football together, and Packer remains as one of his biggest inspirations to this day.
Through it all, Lionell looks to inspire others, while chasing his dreams – using football as an outlet.
“Most importantly, keeping my faith in God has been a priority for me. He gives His toughest soldiers the toughest battles. I think that, through everything I’ve been through my whole life, I’ve had to stay strong, while also balancing staying humble and grounded at the same time. People will tell you that life is tough – and it is – but you have to realize that you’re tough too. Football has taught me a lot about myself. There were plenty of times where I could have just given up. But, staying dedicated and having a strong work ethic keeps me motivated to see something fall into place.”
Obviously, the goal is to make it to the NFL. Lionell knows that the journey won’t be easy – but he’s going to do whatever it takes to make it there.
Wiggins will be attending the XFL’s San Diego Showcase in October, and we wish him the absolute best in that endeavor moving forward.
What are your thoughts on Lionell Wiggins and his story so far? Which XFL team would you like to see him play for? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!