The word had been pounded into the head of Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Dylan Drummond well before he met Lions head coach Dan Campbell and General Manager Brad Holmes.
Coaches preached toughness and grit during his five seasons at Eastern Michigan University. Grit and determination helped build a solid career at EMU while also pulling the Eagles from the depths of despair.
Now grit has elevated Drummond from the guy nobody knew his name in the wide receiver’s room to a guy who everybody knows because his chances of sticking with the Lions – perhaps on the practice squad – increases every day.
He got another opportunity to show he belongs when the Lions traveled to Carolina and beat the Panthers 26-17 in the final preseason game of the year. Campbell withheld many of his starters and Drummond pounced on the opportunity just as he did in the previous two preseason games and during controlled scrimmages against the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished with five reception and 46 yards on the game.
“We see it,” Campbell said. “He makes plays every day. He’s just hard to ignore.”
Drummond caught two passes for 12 yards against Jacksonville. Although the numbers are not eye-popping he ran good routes and displayed toughness and the ability to learn and adjust, which impressed coaches. During practice Drummond caught a pair of long passes including a 30-yard diving catch deep inside enemy territory which drew shouts of praise and encouragement from teammates.
“It’s another week of practice and another opportunity to prove myself more,” Drummond said doing extra work after practice shagging punted balls and snagging a few dozen balls off the jugs machine. “Just be out there and be in the right spot.”
He sees similarities in Campbell and EMU coach Chris Creighton, who took over a program so down in the dumps that students and faculty held meetings designed to close the program. Eastern endured a nine-year stretch of 18-69 football in the Mid-American Conference and Rynearson Stadium looked empty every Saturday. Creighton went 1-15 in the MAC his first two years. In the seven years since the Eagles are 26-28 in conference play, been to five bowl games, and shared the MAC title last season.
“He (Creighton) is similar to Coach Campbell,” Drummond said. “He’s always talking about toughness. Grit was one of our words too. He’s got that blue collar mentality that Southeast Michigan has got. He taught us to be good men, good humans and taught us how to grow as men. In doing that it just makes things better being on a football field.”
No one proposed closing down the after failed restarts under Matt Millen and Bob Quinn.
The Lions are famous for having won one playoff game the last seven decades and being one of a handful of franchises to have never played in the Super Bowl.
Now appears as if the Lions too are rising from the ashes. They are a darling franchise that many believe can win the NFC North and advance through the playoffs.
When Drummond first walked into the receiver’s room no player knew who he was. He worked out with other undrafted free agent during an OTA camp designed to find hidden gems. Afterwards coaches thanked players for their hard work and sent them on their way. Drummond was about to get in his car for the drive to his hometown Cleveland when Lions manager of football operations Liz Liux texted asking him if he wanted to be a Lion?
He dove out his car and has been impressing ever since.
Drummond always believed he belonged even when he thought his opportunity to join the Lions had vanished.
“I never had a doubt in myself,” he said. “I felt like I was in control and that was come in learn the playbook and do what is asked of me.”
For more from the author Terry Foster, check him out on Twitter here: @terryfosterdet
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Original Photo Credit: © Lon Horwedel – USA TODAY Sports