Not too many years ago, Trevor Nowaske was that elementary school-aged kid standing at the foot of a towering Detroit Lions player, holding a pen and a piece of paper in search of a cherished autograph.
Monday morning, a pair of elementary school-aged girls were standing in front of the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Nowaske — fully decked out in his Detroit Lions practice uniform at the NFL team’s Allen Park headquarters — getting his autograph.
Life has come full circle for the 24-year-old Canton native — and he couldn’t be more appreciative.
“I remember when I was young and being in awe of NFL players, putting them on a pedestal,” Nowaske said following a two hour-plus practice (and two-minute signing session). “To be in the position I’m in now is pretty cool.”
Nowaske, who graduated from Salem High School in 2017 before starring as a linebacker and earning a business degree at Saginaw Valley State University, was signed by the Lions as an undrafted free agent just hours after the 2023 NFL Draft concluded.
Always a fan
A life-long Lions fan — along with parents Jim and Renee, and sister Hannah — Nowaske is taking advantage of every opportunity his hometown team is providing him.
“Honestly, this entire experience was surreal at first, but I’ve settled in pretty smoothly and I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was during OTAs (organized team activities) in May,” Nowaske said.
“I’m just trying to find my niche, showing the coaching staff what I can do. I’m getting thrown into all of the linebacker positions, which is good because it allows me to show them how versatile I can be.”
Any sense of awe Nowaske may have felt of his veteran teammates has respectfully melted away since his first OTA practice.
“Once you’re around these guys for a little while, you quickly learn that they’re regular dudes who just happen to be really good at football,” he added.
Nowaske’s three biggest fans — Jim, Renee and Hannah — attentively watched the Lions practice on Monday from a tent set up on the east border of the practice field for players’ family members and close friends.
Rooting for ’59’
Acknowledging their new favorite number is 59 (Nowaske’s assigned jersey number), Jim and Renee shared how the stars aligned the past three months for their football-loving family.
“Obviously, we’re very, very proud of Trevor — he’s worked extremely hard to get this point and he’s taking full advantage of where’s he’s at,” Jim Nowaske said.
“Our family has lived and died with the Lions through thick and thin over the years — we have pictures of our family all dressed in Lions gear way back when Trevor was 5 — so it’s especially gratifying for Trevor to be a Lion now that expectations are so high for the team.”
Renee Nowaske, who recently retired as a science teacher at East Middle School after a 35-year career in education, said the logistics of her son’s NFL landing spot are ideal.
“We’re so grateful because he easily could have signed with a team five states or more away,” Renee said. “We live 30 minutes from here, so we’re able to soak it all in.
“Just watching the few practices we have, we can see that Trevor fits in; he’s where he’s supposed to be. And the the Lions have treated him so well. We couldn’t be happier.”
Although the true test for making the final 53-man roster — or 10-player practice squad — will come during the Lions’ pre-season schedule which kicks off Aug. 11, Nowaske is cautiously optimistic when asked about his NFL future.
Learning ABC’s of NFL
Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell, who Jim, Renee and Hannah Nowaske met for the first time this past weekend, has reiterated that once practice starts, the best players will be rewarded with roster spots, regardless of whether they were high draft picks or undrafted free agents.
“I have learned more about football — technique and so forth — the past few months than I did my entire career before this,” Nowaske said. “You think you know what you’re doing (pre-NFL), then you get to the professional level and it’s 180 degrees different.
“We have a great linebackers coach (Kelvin Sheppard) in our room who played several years in the NFL and has helped me transition to the different positions. And the veterans tell me whenever I have a question about something, let them know.”
Nowaske revealed he has yet to perform in the traditional rookie talent show, which requires first-year players to sing or perform another talent in front of the entire team and coaching staff.
“But I have my song all ready to go, just in case I get called on tonight,” he said, smiling.
Nowaske didn’t hesitate when asked his most memorable training camp highlight.
“It was putting the pads on again the first day of camp because, honestly, after my final game at Saginaw Valley, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever play football again,” he said.
He’s not only playing again, Nowaske’s turning heads.
No surprise to the people along his journey who have watched the humble yet talented young man give every ounce of effort in his body to secure his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or email@example.com.