Lions draft pick Penei Sewell never will forget his humble beginnings

Humble beginnings provide a driving force for many NFL players.

It’s the same for Penei Sewell, the Lions first-round draft pick.

When he first learned how to play football, his family lived on an island called Malaeimi, on the outskirts of Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa in the south Pacific. He was 10 years old, just 10 years ago

He, his mom, dad and three brothers lived in a makeshift one-bedroom shack. It was pink. Sewell seems to look back on that time in his life fondly.

His father never wants him to forget it. So he gave Penei and his other three sons a watch. In the case there’s a photo of that home and words about the importance of family.

“I remember when he gave it to me and I was a little emotional. I look at that image in the watch every single day and that reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of why I do this, it reminds me of everything it took to get here,’’ Sewell said on Saturday in a media call. “It helps me motivate myself each and every day, it gets me out of bed to look at mom and dad in the eyes and see where we were. again it’s a different motivation, ready to go out there and show.’’

His dad, Gabe, was a high school football coach on the island so he and his brothers would tag along, and hang out on the sidelines.

In 2012, looking for a better future for their sons and amidst health issues for the father, the family moved to St. George, Utah, near Gabe’s sister.

By then the four Sewell brothers had picked up the sport of football and their parents hoped the game could lead to a better life.

Today 20-year-old Penei Sewell is in the NFL. He flew into Detroit with his family on Friday.

“When I came in I thought the NFL was all the same and it’s a business aspect, but I was totally wrong, I came into a family atmosphere, everybody with open arms, greeting me with love,’’ Sewell said. “It put me in shock for a little bit and I was like, ‘OK this is something I would love to be a part of and this is something I dreamed to be a part of, to have people in the room like that.’ It just makes me want to go harder and sacrifice everything for them.’’

There was no question that Sewell, who is 6-foot-5 and 331 pounds, was a Top 10 draft prospect. GM Brad Holmes said he has had his eye on him since 2019. He started at Oregon when he was just 17, he won the Outlander Trophy as best offensive lineman in the country in 2019, then opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID.

Campbell said a Zoom call with Sewell on Tuesday sealed the deal. It was not an Xs and Os session.

“It was outstanding, it was all we needed, it was perfect and we knew this guy was a fit. He was everything that we’re about,’’ Campbell said.

“It’s not everyday you can find an athlete who is his size and has his temperament. This is a tough dude who knows how to play nasty and he can protect the quarterback. That’s what you’re looking for when you’re trying to go build a foundation on the offensive line. He’s going to fit like a glove,’’ the coach added.

Sewell said they were trying to find out the kind of person he is.

“It was real, real genuine talk. Nothing about football, just trying to see my character and how I approach things and how I approach the game of football and so forth,’’ Sewell said. “The conversation was really genuine.”

Sewell has a previous connection to Hank Fraley, the Lions offensive line coach. When Fraley was with UCLA he tried to recruit Sewell. He was the only scout that actually went to one of his high school games and he definitely remembers him.

Holmes said they expect Sewell will start at right tackle, He’ll be the third first-round pick on the line, along with Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow.

“It’s a dream come true, I’m living my dream and I’m walking in a dream right now. It’s crazy,’’ Sewell said. “It’s crazy to see where we’re at and to walk the path we’re walking right now, it’s unbelievable and I’m soaking it all up every second, I’m not wasting a thing here, I’m trying to see everything and meet every one.’’

It’s kind of funny that football wasn’t love at first sight for Sewell when he was 10.

“One of my first memories was when Little League just started up there and I was about 10 years old, the league went up to the age of 13 or 14 and there were some big 13 and 14 year olds on the island back then,’’ Sewell said. “”And they weren’t too friendly. I remember at practice going against all them big boys, it wasn’t fun. I didn’t like the sport for a minute just because I was getting picked on by all of them. Yeah so I was really small and getting picked on. That’s my first memory.’’

Now 10 years later he’s building good football memories. This time it’s unlikely anyone in the NFL will pick on him.

Lions draft RB Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round

Saturday proved to be a long wait for running back Jermar Jefferson who thought he might be drafted in the third or fourth round.

Instead the Detroit Lions selected the Oregon State product late, late in the seventh round with the 257th overall pick that they had received in a trade earlier in the day.

Jefferson said he’s happy the Lions made the call.

“It’s been a little stressful being patient and waiting for a phone call. It’s also a great opportunity and a very open opportunity. It’s also a blessing. I’m just glad I got picked,’’ Jefferson said in a media call

He feels he’s been under-rated his whole career — high school, college and now the NFL. 

He plans to be really angry when he steps on the field.

“I felt like I was the best running back in the Pac 12,’’ said Jefferson who is 5-10 and 206 pounds.

While going into the draft he thought he’d go earlier as the day wore on he thought he was going to go undrafted.

“I cherish this moment. … I was down through the whole process but I’m grateful I was picked by the Lions,’ Jefferson said.

Even though he didn’t play on special teams in his three years at Oregon State, he is prepared to do that in the NFL

 “I was in every special teams meeting because I knew I was going to do that at the next level,’’ Jefferson said.

It was at the suggestion of one of his coaches.

Jefferson was the Lions’ final pick in the three-day draft.

1. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

2. Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

3. Alim McNeill, DT, NC State

3. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse

4. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

4. Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue

7. Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State

Lions draft WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and LB Derrick Barnes in fourth round

While pound-for-pound the Detroit Lions may have won the first three rounds of the NFL draft, they went into Saturday needing a wide receiver and a linebacker.

Boom, boom – GM Brad Holmes handled both with back-to-back picks in the fourth round to open Saturday’s action.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC) was selected with the 112th overall pick. 

Then Campbell traded his fifth-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2022 to draft linebacker Derrick Barnes (Purdue) with the 113th pick and also pick up the 257th overall pick in today’s seventh round.

St. Brown’s draft profiles read the same – good hands, solid body control and even though he doesn’t have the length (he’s 6-foot) he wins 50-50 balls. In fact he was eighth in the country with that stat.

“It’s a lot of things, its definitely being in stride at the point of the catch is huge, being able to track the ball is another thing, usually contested catches are depper balls,’’ St. Brown said in a media call. “Being able to track the ball and know when to attack is huge and having that mentality that you’re going to work no matter who’s there at getting that.’’

The youngest of three boys, he comes from an athletic background – his dad was Mr. Universe and his brother, Equanimeous, plays for the Green Bay Packers. His dad wanted his sons to have different names – Amon-Ra is the Eqyptian God of sun and light.

He started lifting when he was 6 with PVC pipes to get the form and gradually lifting weights. 

At USC,he played in 31 games with 23 starts.  Overall he had 178 career catches for 2,270 yards (12.8 avg) and 16 TDs in his career to rank 11th on USC’s career receptions list. He had a streak of 4 consecutive 100-yard receiving outings (last 2 games in 2019, first 2 in 2020)

Barnes, who is also 6-foot, has good size, long arms and sideline-to-sideline range. 

He’s a natural for the Lions since he has a lion tattooed across his right pec. He had a feeling the Lions would draft him.

“I knew because my coach at Purdue would text me, the Lions love you. The Lions think highly of you ,it all shows. I’m really blessed to be a Lion that’s my favorite animal,’’ Barnes said in a media call.

He further explained his fascination with lions.

“My favorite animal is the lion, the king of the jungle. The heart of the lion is what i say I have —- loyalty, power, leadership — I think that’s all the strengths I grew up having,’’ Barnes said.

He has the burst to spy quarterbacks, according to his ESPN draft profile. He flashes as a pass-rusher and has some upside in coverage. He has average stopping power as a run defender. He has the potential to quickly develop into a core special teams player.

In the first three rounds the Lions drafted RT Penei Sewell (331 pounds), DT Levi Onwuzurike (290 pounds) and DT Alim McNeil (317 pounds).