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Custom Willie Green Jersey Large

Willie Green played eight NFL seasons with four NFL teams but is best known in these parts for his two seasons with the Panthers. He was an integral part of Carolina’s first two teams, in fact, totaling 93 catches for 1,496 yards and nine touchdowns from 1995-96.

In recent years, Green has been a successful businessman in the Shelby, N.C., about 40 miles west of Charlotte, where he remains the owner of Deer Brook Golf Course in addition to working on some other ventures. We caught up with Green, one of the more colorful players in team history to talk about his time with the Panthers and what he’s been up to lately.

Let’s start with the very first regular season game the Panthers played. What do you remember about the incredible catch off your shoulder pads and neck from quarterback Frank Reich to help force overtime at Atlanta?

Green: “It was incredible from the catch standpoint. But that catch and what happened in Atlanta had so much meaning to me because I’m from Athens, Georgia. Throughout my career, I always had good games against the Falcons. If you recall that catch and you recall the catch down in Clemson, which was for the winning touchdown and was a record that stood for a long time as the longest TD reception in team history (89 yards from quarterback Kerry Collins), I always seemed to have good games against them.

“But being able to go back to your hometown or your home state and play well, it always meant a lot. All of the games I played, I took personally. That one, when we played the Falcons in Atlanta in front of my mother and a bunch of my family who were Falcon fans, it meant a whole lot.”

Did you have a lot of family there for it?

Green: “I had a whole bunch of family there that day. Throughout my career…I would sponsor 45 to 50 kids from my low-income neighborhood in Athens to come to a game. So I would charter a bus. My mother used to run the local rec center. … It was always a tradition for me to bring the kids from there to at least one game. So what was cool also about that first game is that I had about 50 of those kids at that first game.

“And that first year, when we played against the Falcons that last day of the season at Clemson, I sent those kids to that game, too. The end zone where I ran toward on the winning touchdown, that’s where all those kids were. I handed the ball to either the rec center leader that was there that day, or maybe to one of the kids, I don’t remember exactly.

“So it goes without saying that after paying for those 50 kids to come up to the Falcons games, as well as my mother and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and so on, I think I had between 100 and 150 people at that first game.”

We were all sad to hear of the recent passing of former Panthers’ receivers coach Richard Williamson. What do you remember most about Richard?

Green: “Richard Williamson was by far the best coach at my position that I ever had, throughout high school, throughout college and throughout the pros. And here’s why: This may sound strange to say, because you expect guys who played in the league to know this already, but Richard taught me how and why to catch the football. Typically when you come into the National Football League, those coaches are past teaching you those things you should have learned in college or high school.

“I had the reputation going into the NFL Draft of being a person who could catch the hard balls, but couldn’t catch the easy balls. Whether it was my attention span or whatever, I don’t know.”

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Was that a legitimate criticism in your mind at that time?

Green: “Absolutely. It was legitimate. For some reason, I could catch tough balls, I could catch balls if I had guys all over me. But if I was wide open, I don’t know if it was my concentration level or what, but I had trouble. That was in college and that was in my first couple of years in the league.

“When I got to Carolina, Richard Williamson and I had, from Day One, a love-hate relationship. I thought he hated me. But what Richard was able to do, he didn’t use a one-shoe-size-fits-all method for coaching his wide receivers. He knew how to push your buttons. He knew he had to talk to me differently and get me motivated differently than he did (fellow wide receiver) Mark Carrier, for instance.

“I was the type of player who played better when I was mad and focused. And so what Richard Williamson would do before a game is, he would get me mad. He knew. We all had our routines at Carolina; all players have them. … On game day, Mark and (fullback) Howard Griffith would sit around and laugh and joke around. Then at a certain time, Richard Williamson would walk through that locker room and look at me and say, ‘Get your (bleeping) mind right.’ That’s all he said. He knew that would tick me off – and it did.

“You know I was a joker in the locker room. But once Richard said that and once the game started, you never saw me laughing and joking. … I wish I had had Richard as my coach in college or high school. I think I would have been a much better receiver for it.”

So he was sort of a master psychologist as well as a great coach?

Green: “Yes. Now there were very few times at Carolina where I dropped the ball. But I knew if I dropped the ball, I knew as soon as I walked back to the sideline someone would be holding that phone with Richard up there in the booth on the other end of the line. And I knew his exact words would be, ‘Catch the (bleeping) ball!’ And then he would hang up. I kid you not. That’s all he would say.

“He knew how to push your buttons.”

You are very proud of your two seasons as a Panther, aren’t you?

Green: “If you look at my role and my responsibilities with the Panthers, and it’s even prevalent today, my role has been as a person who steps up and gets you out of trouble. With the Panthers, everybody knew I was going to get the ball on third down. Mark (Carrier) would get it or a running back would get it on first or second down, and they might convert it and keep going. But if it got to be third-and-long, everybody knew I was going to run one of only five routes – and that the ball was coming to me. I think I was second or third in the league that (first) year in catches for third-down conversions. I took pride in that because it took special concentration to be able to convert those third downs.”

Your son, Willie Green II, is now quite the quarterback at perennial power Shelby Crest High School, isn’t he? (He threw for 461 yards and seven touchdowns in a win last weekend).

Green: “They won the 3A state championship last year, and he was the offensive player of the game. So he’s doing real well, and I’m real proud of him. He’s being recruited mostly by your Ivy League, high-end schools like Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. He’s also being recruited by schools like Davidson, Georgia Southern, Campbell and Gardner-Webb. But we went up to Yale over the summer, and Dartmouth is interested in him.”

Well, that’s where Mark Carrier’s son, Jon Marc, is playing now. He might put the full-court press on your son to go there. …

Green: “Well, hopefully he will.”

Custom William White Jersey Large

William White is a dedicated husband, father and Buckeye. He’s been an engineer, business owner and NFL player with a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.

Today, though, he has a new role, one that is not altogether welcome, but that he carries out with a sense of duty and pride. Today, he is a warrior fighting ALS.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or as it is commonly called, Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, eventually destroying the motor neurons that control muscles. The disease is considered fatal – something that White and the neuroscience team at Ohio State are actively working to change.

In 2016, White was casually chatting with his doctor during a checkup, mostly about football, when his doctor noticed some twitching in White’s arms. White assumed it was just muscle cramping, but still underwent a series of tests. His doctor called him in to discuss the results. “He was very upset,” says White. “Had tears in his eye and told me I had this Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS.”

White seemed nonplussed at his doctor’s suggestion that he would likely live just four to five more years. “Everybody says I was very uplifting, but to me, as I told him ? ‘Are you 100 percent sure you’re going to be here next year?’ We’re all going to die, so that’s not something you should be focusing on.”

White’s faith is a driving force in his life, guiding both his actions and attitude. “I’m sure my Father up in heaven is not looking down here saying, ‘Oh, William, I didn’t see that coming.’

As the Director of Community and Corporate Engagement for the College of Engineering Alumni Association, White quickly translated his diagnosis into action, creating the William White Family Fund for ALS.

“As I’ve always taught my kids, for things you can’t control, why worry about it,” notes White. “Now that something like that is put on me, I think, ‘Okay, there’s no cure for it. I can’t do anything on that end, so why should I be worried about what I have. But I can help.”

William White greets Jan Deringer Daily ’80, his teammate on Jan’s Fans and a fellow ALS patient, during the September Walk to Defeat ALS in downtown Columbus.
William White (right) talks with Jan Daily an OSU alum at The Columbus Walk to Defeat ALS® Sunday, September, 23rd at Columbus Commons.(Photo by Jodi Miller, courtesy of The Ohio State University)

White has been collaborating with Dr. Stephen Kolb and Dr. Andrew Quick who lead the university’s ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic and Translational Research Program-the benefactor of White’s fundraising. Kolb says that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the clinic’s ALS research mission. To date, the William White Family Fund for ALS has raised more than $330,000.

A Buckeye through and through, White speaks fondly of the university’s family dynamic. “Ohio State knowing [about my ALS] and still wanting me to come and work-that really shows Buckeye Nation as a family.”

White said that former Ohio State football head coach Earle Bruce echoed that. “He said families stick together. When the family is attacked, we come together and we try to solve that problem.”

And problem-solving they are. White’s fund is allowing Kolb and his team to learn more about ALS, and possibly how to someday slow or halt the disease’s progression – developments that could give the next generation of ALS patients a very different prognosis than those who suffer from the disease today.

Kolb says that the university’s ALS clinic is a unique one for a few reasons. First, it is a multidisciplinary one, meaning patients see more than a physician; they have access to a variety of providers.

“Sort of one-stop shopping,” explains Kolb. “We have respiratory therapy, which is an important component of ALS management, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy as well.”

The clinic’s dual purpose of serving as both a research lab and clinical practice means there are researchers who dedicate their lives trying to understand what causes ALS and how to stop it. “I think our uniqueness is really the fact that we’ve got a dream team of clinicians and researchers working together for all of our patients.”

Ohio State Dr. Stephen Kolb, left, speaks with research scientist Mehmet Yalvac in Kolb’s lab inside Rightmire Hall.
Dr. Stephen Kolb, left, speaks with research scientist Mehmet Yalvac in Kolb’s lab inside Rightmire Hall. (Photo by Jo McCulty The Ohio State University)

When it comes to ALS, Kolb says that there are several key findings that make their recent research especially exciting. The role genetics play can’t be stressed enough. Kolb notes that about 10 percent of people with ALS have a family history of the disease. “I would go out on a limb and say that as we move forward, in the future, there will probably be a majority of patients who will have a genetic predisposition to getting ALS that we’ll be able to recognize.”

In addition, researchers now have the ability to study live cells, something they were previously unable to do. “The real technology piece that has been big is the ability to take blood cells or skin cells, take them back to the lab where we can now turn them into relevant cell types like motor neurons-the neurons that died in ALS-giving us the ability to ‘biopsy’ cells that actually come from a living person.” Kolb notes that this could lead to individualized therapies for patients, something that is becoming common in the field of cancer treatment.

This work is only the tip of the iceberg, says Kolb. “It’s a very exciting time, and is this attention that William is giving us couldn’t come at a better time.”

Dr. Adam Quick, a neurologist in the ALS clinic echoes Kolb’s sentiments about White. “[From our initial conversation,] William made it a really big goal of his to try to make a difference in this illness. He’s a very intelligent guy. He certainly understands the impact and the value that doing research provides, and he understands that you don’t advance in the ability to treat patients who have really challenging neurological and other diseases without research-and a lot of what drives that is being able to have the money to do it.”

Kolb says that he’s continually inspired by White’s optimism. “It’s a process people go through with respect to the acceptance of their diagnosis. … William really was unique because he was instantly there, ‘Let’s make something happen.’ That has made a big impression on us.”

These days, White is working tirelessly to raise money and awareness for ALS, attending events and supporting fundraising efforts, but he’s also enjoying the everyday activities that come with being a dad, like taking his daughter on college tours. “I just enjoy every day. Every day we have is a blessing. That’s what matters.”

Custom Tracy Hayworth Jersey Large

Change has come to Grundy County, and it’s much more significant than simply naming a new coach.

The school announced Friday morning the hiring of former Tennessee linebacker Tracy Hayworth as its head football coach. Hayworth, who played at nearby Franklin County High and was drafted by the Detroit Lions, is the first black coach in any sport in Grundy County school history.

“This is a historical hire. It’s a very positive thing for our school, our program and our kids,” said Leon Woodlee, who is entering his first year as the school’s athletic director. “I’ve already had several parents call me and say this is the best thing that’s happened on the mountain in a long time. I had three daddies come up to me this morning to shake my hand and thank me for making this hire, because we’re changing the culture up here.”

Hayworth, who played at UT from 1986 to 1989 and has coached almost exclusively on the collegiate level, replaces Scott Smith, who was fired this week after less than six months on the job.

After a six-year NFL career and three seaspms in the Arena Football League, Hayworth was an assistant for six seasons at Sewanee and spent eight years on the staff at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Missouri.

He was a volunteer assistant at Franklin County in 2012.

“I saw this as a great opportunity in many ways,” Hayworth said. “I knew the program had some issues with past regimes and they needed a good, strong, solid leader. I feel like I’m that guy. I don’t think the kids care what color the leader is — they just want to be led.

“I grew up in the area, so I knew what the reputation was here. But this is not the only place where there’s racism, so I’ve dealt with that before. Just the fact that the administration reached out to offer me the job says a lot about the change they’re trying to make here. I see it as a responsibility to help change the culture. I’m representing all people of color and trying to change some of the stereotypes that folks who haven’t been exposed to diversity might have.

“At the end of the day, I know I was hired to win football games here, and that’s what we’ve got to get to work to do.”

Hayworth is the eighth football head coach at Grundy County since 2000. The Yellow Jackets went 3-7 last season and have not finished with a winning record since 2011.

Smith was hired in February but fired on Wednesday by Woodlee.

“I went to Coach Smith about several concerns I had,” Woodlee said. “Our field house and the field were both not being taken care of properly, I wanted him to make some changes on his staff for the good of the team and I told him we were going to get South Pittsburg, Marion County and Whitwell back on our schedule.

“He said, ‘Over my dead body.’ He refused to schedule those three teams, but we need them on our schedule because they’re longtime rivals and bring a lot of fans. He wasn’t going to make any of those changes, so I knew we needed to part ways and make a change.

“Coach Hayworth was the first man I spoke to about the job. While we were talking we discussed the race issue because it needed to be talked about. I know how people think about our community here, but I told him that I’ve got a black grandson and I live on that mountain and haven’t heard anything said about it.

“All we’ve had was negative things coming out of this school for too long. I believe this will be something that will really change things here for the good.”

The Yellow Jackets will open the season on Aug. 17 at home against East Hickman.

“We don’t have much time to make a lot of changes and get prepared,” said Hayworth, who also will serve as the defensive coordinator. “I’ll be watching a lot of film over the next few days to see what the kids can do and then be paying close attention at practice trying to get us ready. I don’t want to overload the kids with a lot of change, because they’ve already been through a lot.

“Besides preparing them on the field, I will also be paying close attention to our academics. From my time coaching and recruiting in college, I noticed that too often kids hadn’t been prepared academically for that level. Whether our players are getting recruited or not, I will develop them into good young men to be professionals at whatever they do in life.”

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

Custom Tony Scheffler Jersey Large

Tony Scheffler

Detroit Lions’ Tony Scheffler (85) catches a touchdown pass in front of Green Bay Packers’ Davon House (31) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis.

(Mike Roemer | AP Photo)

CHELSEA — Walking away from football on his own terms was something Tony Scheffler always wanted to do.

Detroit Lions tight end Tony Scheffler hugs his 4-year-old daughter Braiden during NFL football training camp Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Allen Park, Mich.

Another concussion might have prevented the Chelsea High School grad from having a choice.

After three concussions over the last four years with the Detroit Lions, the 31 year old is returning to Chelsea to help the school’s football program and pursue a local business venture.

The Lions released Scheffler after he suffered the third concussion in a 22-9 loss to Green Bay last year.

“I was sitting on my couch watching all the guys that I had spent months training and playing with,” Scheffler said. “It was strange, and I was still feeling the effects of the hit.”

The time away from football during the season helped him see the game with a slightly different perspective.

“It was an eye-opener,” Scheffler said. “I think when you are playing the game you don’t realize how physical the game can be, how hard some of the hits can be.”

The tight end was drafted out of Western Michigan by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2006 draft. He was traded to his hometown Detroit Lions in 2010.

In eight seasons, he had 258 career receptions with 3,207 yards with 22 touchdowns.

During the off-season, he spent months weighing his future. He had workouts with Chicago and Kansas City, but also started to pursue options outside of football.

His young family, including wife Richelle and three children under the age of eight, was also an important factor.

“She (Richelle) was ready for me to be done, and I don’t blame her,” Scheffler said with a chuckle.

With the concussions behind him, Scheffler decided the bright future he had outside of playing wasn’t worth risking.

“I’m young, 31 years old is young, so there was concern (of long term risk of a fourth concussion), but it was still tough,” Scheffler said. “I had some opportunities, but I decided it was time.”

Despite getting knocked out of what turned out to be his last game, Scheffler said he has fond memories of the afternoon.

“My whole family was at that game,” Scheffler said. “I’m not sure why, but we took a lot of pictures that day, so it was weird. It was almost like it was meant to be. The game was at Lambeau, and we just have all these great pictures. I’m OK with how it all turned out.”

Instant credibility

Every student-athlete in Chelsea envisions following Scheffler’s footsteps as the only player from the area to reach the professional level.

Detroit Lions tight end Tony Scheffler signs an autograph for seventh-grader Alex Wright, 13, at Swan Valley Middle School. Scheffler visited the school to make smoothies out of fruit and yogurt for the students as a prize for placing second in a national challenge by Fuel Up To Play 60, in April 2012.

They all know about his eight years of NFL experience, and that gives him instant credibility as a new assistant coach for the Bulldogs football team.

“All the kids watch what he does, and listen to everything he says,” longtime Chelsea coach Brad Bush said.

Scheffler came in as a freshman at Chelsea High School the fall of Bush’s first year as coach.

As a senior wide receiver, Scheffler set school records for receiving yards in a season as he helped the Bulldogs go 11-1, and reach regionals in Division 3 where it lost to the eventual state champion Farmington Hills Harrison.

“Tony was a huge part of the early success we had when I came into the program,” Bush said. “What makes Tony coming back so great, is that Chelsea means so much to him.”

When Scheffler asked his former coach for the team’s playbook to prepare for the team minicamp this summer, Bush said it should be pretty familiar.

“I expected him to just give me the playbook, but he just said I should remember most of it,” Scheffler said, laughing. “I had to tell him I’ve had to learn like 30 offenses since high school. After a couple days of camp though, things started to come back a little.”

Scheffler, who has donated money to the athletics program in the past, is coaching strictly on a volunteer basis.

“I was smart with my money, so I don’t need to ask for anything,” Scheffler said. “The sports programs are so important to this community that it’s just a privilege to be able to help out.”

Scheffler knows Chelsea fans want their team to bounce back after missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 1998.

“I think I can bring something to the table,” Scheffler said. “You don’t realize how much you know about the game after playing it until you get in there and start helping out. It’s been fun working with the tight ends, and to work with Brad is the cherry on top. It’s something we have talked about for a while, it was a no-brainer for me.”

Diverse Interests

Scheffler’s presence in the Chelsea community will go beyond the football field.

Lions tight end Tony Scheffler smiles as he jokes around on the air during the Mott Takeover at 1050 WTKA on Friday, May 17, 2013.

He is going into the real estate business with Tammy Lehman, one of the most well known agents in the area.

The two are going into business together with Lehman and Scheffler Real Estate Services. They just opened an office in downtown Chelsea this past week.

Scheffler, who has a degree in marketing from WMU, has done all the course work to get his license and is taking the test next week.

“Tammy has been my real estate agent since I was in the NFL,” Scheffler said. “We did a lot of deals together, and real estate kind of became a passion of mine.”

In working with Lehman for so many years, he realized the benefit of having a real estate agent who he could relate to.

“This is a small knit community,” Scheffler said. “I don’t think some of the bigger realtors out there give you small town kind of service, they don’t make it personal.”

She helped him get into rehabbing houses, and purchase a number of hunting properties when he started getting into the hobby four years ago.

“I love the rush of finding a place with potential,” Scheffler said. “I love being able to put my stamp on something. I think it has to do with being raised in a small town, and having to work for everything. I wasn’t a big time recruit, you know? I had to put some elbow grease into it.”

Scheffler also is putting some elbow grease into raising Texas Longhorn cattle. He purchased a ranch in Texas to bred cattle. The ranch, and business, is called Touchdown Ranch.

“In a weird way, it’s kind of like collecting baseball cards for me,” Scheffler said. “I love it.”

Custom Tom Watkins Jersey Large

AMES, Iowa- This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the best and most underappreciated sports movies of all-time. In 1968, the movie “Paper Lion” was released to rave reviews. It chronicled the experiences of writer George Plimpton, who introduced his best-selling book “Paper Lion” in 1966 about going through an actual National Football League training camp with the Detroit Lions as a rookie quarterback in 1963.

The breakthrough book was history in the making. It was the first time an “outsider” got an up-close look of life in the NFL. Plimpton, who was one of the most revered writers of the 1960s, had done previous sports-themed stories before. In 1960, he pitched to the American League All-Stars and retold the harrowing experience in his book “Out of My League.” He also wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated on his opportunity to spar three rounds against boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson.

“Paper Lion” was the book that made Plimpton famous. The success of the book garnered interest from Hollywood and Stuart Miller productions decided to begin filming the motion picture version of the book in 1967.

So where does Iowa State University fit into this scenario? Rather than hiring actors to attempt to portray the Detroit Lions, the production company decided to start filming at the start of the 1967 Lion training camp and have the Lions players appear as themselves. The Lions were well-represented with former Cyclones at the time. Four former ISU gridiron stars (Tom Watkins, Tom Vaughn, Chuck Walton and Carl Brettschneider) appear and have significant roles in the movie. Watkins and Vaughn, who were key members of the Lions squad, have numerous speaking lines in the flick. Brettschneider, who had retired from the NFL but was an assistant coach with Detroit, is seen and heard briefly. Walton is present in a couple of scenes, but did not have any speaking parts.

Watkins had the unique opportunity to be on the Lions team for both of Plimpton’s experiment in 1963 and the production of the movie in 1967.

“We really did not know what was going on when we saw this guy (Plimpton) show up for training camp,” Watkins recalled. “When he did get a chance to participate, he was clumsy as an ox. He couldn’t walk with two feet. But he was really determined to do it, so we respected him.”

Watkins, who graduated from ISU in 1961, is one of the best running backs in Cyclone history. A member of the famed 1959 “Dirty Thirty” team, Watkins ranked second in the nation in rushing that season and earned All-America honors the following year in 1960. He played seven seasons in the NFL, leading the league in punt return yardage as a Lion in 1963 and 1964. He was inducted into ISU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.

“The book and movie was a good portrayal of our camp,” Watkins said. “We did not have much say in the filming of the movie. Management made the decision to let the filmmakers come to our training camp. We just listened to our management and coaches and went along with what they wanted.”

For Cyclone football fans and football fans in general, the movie is a must-see. The film takes you right inside the interactions of a real-life NFL training camp. What you see is basically real, not scripted. It also takes you back to a different era of professional sports, where big-money and greed was absent, and teammates treated each other like family.

“Most of the stuff you see in the movie is pretty real,” Watkins said. “Alan Alda (who played Plimpton in the movie) was good to work with. We had no problems with any of the actors. Basically, there were hardly any outside actors in the movie. You had Alda, you had the female role (played by Lauren Hutton) and the rest were football players.”

“There were times when we were given lines and we screwed them up just like any other actor,” Watkins added. “We would reshoot the scenes to get it right. But a lot of the movie is working out, scrimmaging and playing, so you didn’t have time to rehearse in those scenes. Practically all of that stuff was not rehearsed. Everything on the football field was real. They did not go back in and clean it up.”

In the movie’s closing moments, the production company showed an actual preseason exhibition game with the Lions pitted against the St. Louis Cardinals in a brand new Busch Stadium. A pair of Cyclones make key plays in the Lions’ win, as Watkins returns a punt over 50 yards to set up a Detroit score and Vaughn intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown.

“Tom (Vaughn) and I were pretty close and both of our families would visit each other a lot,” Watkins said. “We had a good relationship. I played with Carl (Brettschneider) before he became an assistant. I came to the Lions in 1962 and played two seasons with Carl. We had a whole bunch of Cyclones with the Lions. There was another Iowa Stater, Dick Limerick, who was in our camp for awhile as well.”

Watkins was also first to admit that his teammate, all-Pro defensive tackle Alex Karras, was probably the real star of the movie. Karras would later become an actor after retiring from professional football.

“Alex was always the life of the party,” Watkins said. “He wanted to be the Big Dog. There is no doubt that Alex got his break in Hollywood after his performance in the movie.”

Watkins is proud to be a part of movie history.

“Whenever the movie is on, I always call up my parents, my kids and my grandkids and I tell them, ?you have to check this show out to see a great actor in it,’” Watkins said with a laugh. “My grandkids watched it and they couldn’t believe it was me on the screen. I was honored to have some speaking lines in the movie. It was a great honor to be a part of it.”

Watkins reveres his Iowa State experience as well.

“It was also a great honor for me to be a part of the Dirty Thirty,” Watkins added. “We brought life back to Iowa State and brought excitement. We felt we put ISU back on the map and I am proud to be part of the history of the program.”

Custom Theo Riddick Jersey Large

The nine players in the Detroit Lions’ 2020 draft class will create their identity with their play on the field.

This is not a prediction column on how the 2020 class will fare. It’s a memory column – just for fun about who the 2020 class reminds me of compared to players taken at the same positions in previous Lions drafts.

One rule – with one exception – is that the players were drafted by the Lions since 2002, the year the franchised returned to downtown Detroit in Ford Field.

Another rule – that they were drafted by the Lions – is broken. Actually, it’s been shattered.

The draft is not an exact science. Neither are memories.

These are mine. Feel free to express yours.

Here are the Lions’ 2020 draft picks by round, and the former Lions they remind me of.

1. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State.

Reminds me of: The late James “Hound Dog” Hunter, Grambling, 1976.

I went back 44 years to find a cornerback drafted in the first round to match Okudah’s skill set and body type — a lean, athletic cornerbacks with fluid movement.

Hunter was a smooth and explosive athlete at 6-3, 195. He started at free safety and both corners in a career shortened to seven seasons because of a neck injury sustained in 1982. Hunter had seven interceptions in 1976 and six in ’77.

2. RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia.

Reminds me of: Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech, 2004.

The Lions traded up to take Jones late in the first round (30th overall). He was a dual threat – a tough runner (1,133 yards as a rookie) and a good receiver. He had a career-high 61 receptions in 2005, and 8.5 yards per catch. He played only five seasons because of injuries.

3a. DE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame.

Reminds me of: Cliff Avril, Purdue, 2008.

Avril was a speed rusher, as Okwara is expected to become.

Avril was a steal in the third round. He had a 4.51 40 at the Combine and used that speed to rush the passer – 39 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in five seasons with the Lions before signing with Seattle as a free agent in 2013.

3b. Guard Jonah Jackson, Ohio State.

Reminds me of: Graham Glasgow, Michigan, 2016.

Glasgow and Jackson share similar traits. Glasgow was drafted in the third round – GM Bob Quinn’s first draft. He was a versatile interior lineman who started 58 of 63 games played at center and guard. Versatility and toughness are part of what made Jackson attractive to the Lions.

RELATED LINKS
5 things to know about Jeff Okudah
O’HARA: Jones Jr. looking ahead to NFL season with optimism
Where Lions stand at running back following NFL Draft
4. G Logan Stenberg, Kentucky.

Reminds me of: Joe Dahl, Washington State, 2016.

They aren’t the same body types. Stenberg is 6-6, 316; Dahl came into the league at 6-4, 310 as a fifth-round pick from Washington State. But both were drafted as development players. Dahl was a college tackle who was shifted inside. He overcame injuries to start 13 of 13 games played in 2019 in a three-guard rotation.

5a. WR Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin.

Reminds me of: Anquan Boldin, Florida State, 2003.

I’m throwing out the rules here for one reason – it’s my column, and it’s a perfect fit.

Boldin ran a 4.73 40 and was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round. Cephus also was timed in 4.73 at the Combine and improved to 4.62 at his Pro Day.

Boldin played his first game against the Lions at Ford Field and set the NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie in an opening game with 217. Boldin scored the first TD of the game in an eventual loss to the Lions.

Despite his lack of speed, Boldin played 14 NFL seasons and caught 1,076 passes, ninth most in NFL history.

His last season was in 2016 with the Lions, and he had 67 catches. His last regular-season catch was for a touchdown against the Packers at Ford Field with 13 seconds left in the last game of the 2016 regular season.

Not saying Cephus will match Boldin’s career, but they have similar traits – tough, strong, run good routes. And a bad 40 time.

5b. Jason Huntley, New Mexico State.

Reminds me of: Theo Riddick, Notre Dame. 2013.

Riddick didn’t have Huntley’s speed when the Lions drafted him in the sixth round, but his college background playing wide receiver and running back showed the versatility that made him a valuable part of the offense.

Riddick was a part-time starter, but a full-time threat as a receiver whether he lined up in the backfield, the slot or split wide.

Huntley adds a dynamic threat on kickoff returns that Riddick did not possess. It will be interesting to see where he fits in the offense.

6. DT John Penisini, Utah.

Reminds me of: Caraun Reid, Princeton, 2014.

Penisini is a run-defending specialist, similar to what Reid brought to the Lions as a fifth-round draft pick. Reid played part time in 2014 and started 12 games in 2014 after bulking himself up. He lasted six NFL seasons. The first two were in Detroit, and he returned briefly in 2017.

7. DL Jashon Cornell, Ohio State.

Reminds me of: DE Willie Young, Florida State, 2010.

Young was an outgoing, upbeat 25-year-old rookie who was blessed with raw talent when he got to Detroit in 2010 as a seventh-round pick.

He didn’t start a game until his fourth season, when he had three sacks in 15 starts. He played his last four seasons with the Bears. For his career, Young had 32 sacks – and he no doubt enjoyed every one of them.

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A few years ago, the Detroit Lions faced a difficult decision with linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Although the middle linebacker was coming off one of his best season yet in Detroit, the change in head coach and defensive scheme made it hard to justify bringing Whitehead back on a new contract.

Instead, Whitehead went to Oakland on a three-year, $19 million contract with the Raiders. Unfortunately for Whitehead, it will only be a two-year deal, as the Raiders announced on Monday that they were letting go of Whitehead, saving the team $6.25 million in cap space.

In his two years with the Raiders, Whitehead started every game. He led the Raiders in tackles in both seasons, however he continued to struggle in coverage, allowing a passer rating of 146.5 and 150.5 in 2018 and 2019 respectively (per PFF).

Whitehead was a fifth-round pick for the Detroit Lions in the 2012 NFL Draft. He signed a two-year extension with the Lions in 2016, but will now enter free agency for the second time in his career.

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The Detroit Lions have declined the fifth-year option on linebacker Jarrad Davis’ contract. Unless the team works out a long-term extension, he is now scheduled to become a free agent next offseason.

Jarrad Davis
Jarrad Davis (Photo: Daniel Mears, Detroit News)

Davis was selected by the Lions with the No. 21 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. As a first-rounder, the Lions held a fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Had the team exercised it, Davis’ 2021 salary would have been average of the third-25th highest-paid players at his position, currently projected to be slightly more than $10 million.

At the time the Lions drafted Davis, he was expected to bolster a struggling unit that was trying to recover from the departures of long-time starters Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy.

Scouting Davis heavily prior to adding him to the roster, the Lions’ brass saw an electric athlete run a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and post a 38.5 inch vertical at his pro day. Both measureables were among the best by a linebacker prospect that year.

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Additionally, the on- and off-the-field character reviews were stellar.

“They gave the guy glowing remarks in terms of intelligence, work ethic, toughness, leadership, all of those things,” general manager Bob Quinn said after drafting Davis. “It was one after another. It wasn’t just one source or one coach. It was everybody in the entire building.”

When it comes to passion for his profession and overall coachability, Davis has been everything the Lions could have hoped for when they selected him out of the University of Florida. But through three years, his on-field performance has been mixed results.

Immediately thrust into a starting role as a rookie, Davis recorded nine stops and recovered a fumble in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, but he also missed two tackles.

Missed tackles proved to be a season-long issue. He finished with 19 his first year, including seven games where he failed to wrap up the ball carrier multiple times.

Davis also struggled in coverage, allowing 82.1 percent of the 56 throws his direction to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus. That led to a reduced role during the second half of that season.

Davis rebounded nicely in his second season. Despite surrendering a long completion to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter that cost the Lions a game, Davis showed clear improvements in coverage, trimmed his missed tackles and developed into a weapon as a blitzer, tallying 6.0 sacks.

Expectations were high entering the 2019 season. He added weight, worked with a pass-rush specialist during the offseason, and had the benefit of a season’s worth of experience in coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme. The stars appeared to be aligning for a breakout.

“I know what was on the surface and to continue to go deeper into what everything entails, I’m just really excited,” Davis said last offseason. “I think we can take another step as a defense. Honestly, I can take another step as a player. I’m really excited to push myself so I can help push the guys around me so we can all become a better unit.”

But any momentum he had was derailed in the preseason, when he suffered an ugly ankle injury in the opening minutes of the team’s third game. That sidelined him the first two weeks of the regular season, and although he refused to use the injury as an excuse, he struggled to get back to the level he was playing at toward the end of 2018.

Davis did have two of the better games of his young career late in the season, recording eight tackles in back-to-back contests against Chicago and Dallas without missing an opportunity. He also forced and recovered a fumble in the loss to the Cowboys.

Three weeks later, after aggravating his injured ankle in a loss to Minnesota, Davis’ season was over. In 11 games, he tallied 63 tackles, 2.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.

The fifth-year option for first-round picks was part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, first coming in play after the 2014 season. The Lions have exercised the option for their pick four of the previous five years. The lone exception was with guard Laken Tomlinson, who was traded to the 49ers before a decision needed to be made.

Additionally, the team cut tight end Eric Ebron after exercising the option, before the salary became guaranteed. After this year, the fifth-year option will automatically become guaranteed once it is picked up.

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Allen Park — Twenty-one players have spent time on the 10-man practice squad for the Lions this season.

Some, like running back David Williams and defensive tackle Frank Herron, lasted one day.

Others take a more circuitous route: Defensive end Jonathan Wynn made the practice squad out of training camp, has been cut twice and then re-added to the team both times — all since Sept. 1.

It makes Anthony Pittman’s sticking with the Lions practice squad all along that much more impressive for the former Birmingham Groves and Wayne State standout.

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Being a numerical anomaly is nothing new for Pittman, who represents a pair of green and gold local programs without much history of NFL success.

“It’s an honor to be able to set the standard,” Pittman said. “Those guys practiced with me, played games with me, know me personally. And they know if I can make it, then they know what it takes to set the example. It means a lot to me. I just want to keep making everyone proud.”

Pittman is one of four players to stick with the practice squad all season, an indication the Lions believe he has a chance to someday continue their local tradition.

The Lions have not yet had a Michigan resident suit up for a regular-season game this year. If they don’t, this would be the first year since the Portsmouth Spartans moved from southern Ohio to become the Detroit Lions in 1934 that an in-state man didn’t suit up.

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Pittman is the only Michigan product out of the 66 players on Detroit’s active roster, practice squad or injured reserve list.

Pittman was a lightly regarded defensive end in his junior year of high school, but flourished as a senior middle linebacker in the first of now seven straight playoff seasons for Groves.

Still, when Pittman was leaving high school, coach Brendan Flaherty said he thought his best football was ahead of him at Wayne State.

“It was one of those perfect storms for him,” Flaherty said. “The body matured and I think things just kind of came together for him. Some of those guys, when a man’s lightbulb goes on, things just start getting better and better.”

Lions rookie player Anthony Pittman works on the finishing touches of his coat pocket.
Lions rookie player Anthony Pittman works on the finishing touches of his coat pocket. (Photo: Max Ortiz, Detroit News)

But the reality, Flaherty said, was Pittman was probably third on the pecking order of football recruits from Groves in 2014 behind cornerback Ross Williams, who went to Eastern Michigan, and linebacker Bryce Anderson, who went to Northern Iowa.

Pittman is now the third former Groves player to make the NFL: Aaron Webster spent time with Houston and on the Chicago practice squad, and DeOn’tae Pannell was with New Orleans in training camp in 2012.

Pro-Football-Reference.com lists 12 Wayne State players in NFL history, with Joique Bell of Detroit the most recent, wrapping up his six-year career in 2016 with his second Detroit stint.

When Pittman joined the Lions as one of 90 players at training camp, it was easy to write him off as a feel-good summer story that will be gone when the real games begin in September.

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But Flaherty is not surprised Pittman has stuck around.

While Pittman’s game took off under coach Paul Winters at Wayne State, his high school coach also noticed something different about the man when Pittman visited his alma mater to talk to Groves players during their rigorous “Spring Survivor” workouts in 2018.

“I just couldn’t believe the maturity and what he was saying, and just his mindset and focus,” Flaherty said. “He was very inspiring. The coaches and the adults in the circle were riveted.

“You could see it in the guy’s eyes. I know that sounds trite or whatever, but you knew the guy had that mindset.”

Pittman was a two-year captain and two-time all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate performer for Wayne State.

But he didn’t really reach the radar of top Lions’ brass until a local pre-draft workout in April that featured players from the Big Ten to the NAIA, where Pittman’s speed and size caught their attention.

Lions linebacker Anthony Pittman (57) helps tackle Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson (30) earlier this year.
Lions linebacker Anthony Pittman (57) helps tackle Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson (30) earlier this year. (Photo: Ron Schwane, AP)

Pittman was brought in undrafted and made 14 tackles in Detroit’s four preseason games, starting the final one.

At 6-foot-3, he fits the mold of big players coach Matt Patricia wants on his defense. His slight 224 pounds for Wayne State has ticked up to 240, and his practice play has impressed as well as his acumen in meetings, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.

“He’s very smooth and athletic,” Pasqualoni said. “He’s very long. He’s a big guy. He’s a very young, developmental guy. Hell of a person. Great human being and really a great guy.”

Pittman said veterans Christian Jones and Devon Kennard have shown him the standard. Both players came out of college in 2014 when Pittman left Groves — Jones undrafted out of Florida State, Kennard a fifth-rounder out of USC.

Both players worked their way up to NFL starting lineups, and Kennard is noticing the right approach from Pittman.

“He’s very methodical with his studying and everything he’s doing,” Kennard said. “When you’re a young guy, you do things the right way, you’re working hard, you earn the respect of the guys in the room. He’s done a good job with that.

“I think he’s doing a lot of things really well, he’s learning, soaking up the defense. I think he’s progressing well, he’s just got to continue to stay on that path.”

Wearing No. 57 like former Lions mainstay linebacker and two-time Pro Bowler Stephen Boyd, Pittman has made an impression in Allen Park this season.

On the scout team, Pittman has mimicked pass rushers like Chandler Jones, Brandon Graham, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, readying for a chance to suit up on Sundays.

“Just stay ready, anything can happen,’ Pittman said. “Stay locked in on the game plan, stay locked in on recovery.

“Just never take a day off. Stay ready.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.

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ASHEVILLE – Asheville School has found its new head football coach.

Shawn Bryson was introduced as the school’s new coach on Feb. 20, according to a press release.

Bryson, a Franklin High School graduate, previously held the same position at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School. He replaces Gus Schill, who announced his retirement in January.

Following a prolific high school career, Bryson was a running back at the University of Tennessee from 1995-98 under legendary coach Philllip Fulmer.

He served as team captain on the 1998 national championship team and finished his career in Knoxville with 505 yards rushing, 484 yards receiving and nine total touchdowns.

A third-round selection in the 1999 NFL draft, Bryson played for six years, including stints with the Buffalo Bills (2000-02) and Detroit Lions (2003-06). He retired in 2006 with career totals of 2,144 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

He took over at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee in 2017 after several collegiate coaching stops, including Lenoir-Rhyne (fullbacks), Temple University (graduate assistant), Florida A&M (running backs) and UT-Chattanooga (running backs).

“Coach Bryson has extensive experience at every level of football and has earned a reputation for consummate leadership at every stop he has made. He will be a great asset to our school and our student-athletes,” Carl Boland, Asheville School’s athletic director, said in a press release.

Bryson will also serve as Asheville School’s associate director of admissions and financial aid.

David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the Citizen Times. He can be reached at [email protected], at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @acthshuddle.