Eastern Oregon University wide receiver Jace Billingsley is one step closer to realizing his dream of playing in the National Football League.

The former Eastern Oregon standout wide receiver has signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions following the NFL Draft Saturday.

“Obviously, I’m really excited about it,” he said. “When I really think about it, it’s surreal that I signed with an NFL team coming from Winnemucca, Nevada and Eastern Oregon.

“My main goal is to get on the field on Sundays, and I know there’s a lot of work ahead to make that happen. I’m looking at it as another opportunity and one that I need to make the most of.”

Detroit is a team he and agents Adam Klimek and Dr. Lynn Lashbrook had been in contact with since the University of Nevada pro day in late March that Billingsley attended. The Lions had also put him through a separate private workout.

Billingsley said he was contacted by a couple of teams following the draft, including teams who gave him invitations to rookie camp. The best option he received, though, and the one he ultimately took, was the offer from the Lions.

“They took him based on the fact that they liked what they saw in person,” EOU head coach Tim Camp said. “He has good ball skills, and he fits the mold of one of those special guys.”

The contract that Billingsley signed is what he called a “basic rookie contract,” which he said puts him on Detroit’s
90-man roster and should guarantee him a spot on the team at least through the start of the preseason. If he does make the Lions’ final cut and get on the 53-man roster, it becomes a three-year deal, he said.

“Once we got the Lions’ offer we knew we didn’t want to risk losing a contract,” Billingsley said. “It was a great fit.”

Part of what he said makes Detroit a good option is the team’s need for depth at wide receiver. The Lions’ lost all-pro wideout Calvin Johnson to retirement in the offseason and, according to espn.com, had just six receivers on their pre-draft roster.

“They did sign a couple more (receivers), so I knew I was going to have to compete wherever I go,” he said. “From looking at their roster and talking to their scouts and coaches, it was the place I had the best opportunity.”

Billingsley was one of 14 undrafted free agents signed by the Lions as of Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press, and one of four wide receivers signed by the team, along with Quinshad David of North Carolina, Baylor’s Jay Lee and Appalachian State’s Simms McElfresh. Detroit did not take a receiver with any of its 10 selections in the draft.

The next step in the process, Billingsley said, is going to Detroit’s minicamp and possibly the organized team activities, or OTAs. He said he leaves for minicamp later this week.

Camp agreed that Detroit is a great opportunity for Billingsley, and said he’s a player who can be an asset wherever he ends up.

“Knowing him and his work ethic, the team that picked him is a good fit for him and he should do fine,” Camp said. “He’ll be a benefit to anyone.”

He added that while Billingsley has a great skillset, what could end up setting him apart is his intellect for the game and ability to quickly grasp concepts.

“Jace is very smart. He picks up on stuff quickly,” Camp said. “With the Lions they were talking terminology with him and he picked up on it the first time. That’s going to benefit him tremendously.”

Billingsley played for Eastern Oregon from 2012 to 2015. During his senior season, Billingsley finished fourth in the country with 1,931 all-purpose yards and tallied 863 rushing yards on 176 carries, 506 receiving yards on 57 catches, and scored 13 touchdowns for a team-high 78 points.

For his career, Billingsley became one of the most prolific players in EOU history, holding all-time marks for receptions (242), receiving yards (2,522), all-purpose yards (5,911), total points scored (258) and touchdowns (42).

“I’m grateful that the Detroit Lions gave me this opportunity to compete at the next level,” Billingsley said in a press release from EOU. “I still have a lot of work to do before I make it on the field, but all I can ask for is an opportunity, and I will do my best to make the most of it and make EOU proud. I can’t thank the Mountie community enough for getting me to where I am at today.”

Contact Ronald Bond at 541-975-3342 or rbond@lagrandeobserver.com . Follow Ronald on Twitter @lgoBond.