DETROIT — For some of the members of the Michigan football team, Saturday afternoon’s open practice in Detroit was the first time they had ever set foot in Ford Field.
But for senior cornerback and Detroit native Jourdan Lewis, it was a return to a place where he had already made a name for himself.
As a three-way player who starred at cornerback, wide receiver and returner at Detroit Cass Tech High School, Lewis won back-to-back state championships at Ford Field in 2011 and 2012. In those two games, he racked up a total of 190 receiving yards and scored a touchdown in each — including an 89-yard strike on his team’s first offensive play in 2012.
Those were just two of many memories Lewis has fostered at the home of the Detroit Lions, where he’s played numerous games dating back to his days in the Detroit PAL youth football program for kids aged seven to 14.
“It’s kind of a little bit of a familiar feeling,” Lewis said. “Hopefully I can play here next level, maybe. It was just a good experience out here.”
Lewis returned to Ford Field on Saturday as the accomplished leader of a strong Michigan secondary that features a wealth of talent and experience: senior cornerback Channing Stribling, fifth-year senior cornerback Jeremy Clark, redshirt junior safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas and, of course, versatile redshirt sophomore safety Jabrill Peppers.
After a breakout junior season in which he received All-Big Ten and All-American accolades, Lewis is the most decorated member of his position group, and the bar will be set equally high for 2016. Knowing that he’ll be matched up with an opposing team’s No. 1 receiver every single week, Lewis understands that his work doesn’t stop after last year’s success.
Even during an eventful spring campaign that featured Spring Break practice in Bradenton, Fla., and now a return to his hometown, Lewis has preferred to focus on business.
“I’ve still got to do my job,” Lewis said. “That’s how I always approach the game. I’m gonna be excited no matter where I am. I’ve just gotta play football — that’s my main goal, not seeing everything around me. It’s just knowing that my job is to lock up everything out there, and that’s pretty much it.”
At the same time, though, Lewis couldn’t help but be impressed at the turnout for the four-hour afternoon practice. Some 5,000 to 6,000 people filled the seats in the south end of the stadium, ooh-ing and ahh-ing as the Wolverines went through their drills and stretches.
Save for a few impressive plays — including a 70-yard touchdown catch from redshirt freshman tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and a pick-six by sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel — nothing extraordinary happened at the practice, but the Michigan fans in attendance seemed to enjoy it anyway.
“It was kinda weird, everybody (reacting to) simple drills we do every single day,” Lewis said. “I just appreciate everybody coming out here. It’s special when you’ve got people coming out here for four-hour practices, trying to get your autograph and stuff. … It’s really a blessing that people come out here just to see me do what I do every day.”
Lewis, who passed up the chance to declare for the NFL Draft to complete his degree, will almost definitely be playing on Sundays in 2017, and judging by his demeanor after practice Saturday, he certainly wouldn’t mind suiting up for his hometown team, back at Ford Field once again.
“I am a humongous Lions fan,” Lewis said. “It kinda hurts, especially now that (recently retired wide receiver Calvin Johnson) is gone, but I’m definitely a big Lions fan. Always been a hometown guy.”