ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions’ secondary is undergoing a facelift. Yet the new guys will need no introductions.
Tracy Walker is expected to replace Glover Quin in the starting lineup at safety. He joined the club as a third-round pick just last year, but goes way back with cornerback Darius Slay. They’re cousins who both attended Brunswick High, a school tucked away in the far southeastern corner of Georgia along the Atlantic coast.
Now Detroit has added another starter to the mix: Justin Coleman, who happens to hail from the very same school.
That’s right. Three-fifths of Detroit’s starting secondary are alumni of Brunswick High.
“I got a couple years with Darius (in high school), and it was great playing with him,” Coleman said. “We never knew that we were both going to get to this point, but in high school he was one of the best players on the field and he kind of just motivated me to get on the field. He kind of helped me along the way, just being a leader that he is, and I tried to just compete with him.”
Slay was an all-state defensive back, as you might expect, but he actually preferred running back in those days. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior in 2008, and intercepted six passes with two touchdown returns on defense.
“I took this pitch one time out of the backfield and reversed it, like, 10 times and took it like 80 yards,” Slay told MLive. “I put it on Instagram one time, but I deleted it because I had so many pictures.
“They pitched it to me, and one dude caught me. He was hatin’ and spinned me around, so I just went in a circle. I was only a freshman, about 140 (pounds), so I was like, ‘Can’t let no one hit me.’ So I just started running that way, and then everyone pretty much was getting tired. I wasn’t getting tired, so I just kept going back and forth until I saw the opening. It was crazy, man. Crowd went crazy. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
But Coleman’s best story about Slay actually occurred in track and field. They were both outstanding sprinters, and were favorites to win the 4 x 100 meter relay. But it was cold that day, and Slay — not exactly a big fan of cold weather, as it turns out — was reluctant to run.
“He basically was the fastest guy out there,” Coleman said of Slay. “But it was too cold, and we needed him to run for us in the 4 x 100. And he just didn’t want to run. We were like, ‘Go out there and warm up, you’ll get warm enough to run.’
“He did that, and he ended up winning the race.”
Slay went on to junior college, then Mississippi State before landing in Detroit as a second-round pick in 2013. He’s since turned himself into an All-Pro and appeared in the last two Pro Bowls.
But the Jamal Agnew injury last season revealed Detroit’s depth issues around him. So Detroit is ripping up the secondary and putting it back together. Quin and Nevin Lawson are both out, and Coleman has been added to the mix. It remains unclear whether he’ll start in the slot, where he played 90 percent of his snaps in Seattle, or on the outside, where he split his time while in New England. But at $9 million annually, you can bet he’ll be in the starting lineup someplace alongside Slay.