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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 23, 2010

NFL draft: Nebraska’s Suh says he won’t disappoint Lions’ fans

By Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Detroit Free Press

NEW YORK — The order came from Lions headquarters in Allen Park, and chief financial officer Tom Lesnau wrote the name on a card at the team's table, down to the left in front of the stage.

Lesnau handed the card to a runner with 4:01 left on the clock Thursday night, and it was official: The Lions had selected Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh No. 2 overall in the NFL draft.

In the moments before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" played at Radio City Music Hall. The Lions hope Suh, a dominant talent, will wake up a defense that has ranked last in the league three years in a row.

Suh seemed to be the choice of the fans who have stayed awake through an NFL-record 30 losses over two seasons. At a meet-and-greet with season-ticket holders Monday night at Ford Field, the fans yelled "Suuuuh!" Coach Jim Schwartz said they wouldn't be disappointed. Suh heard about it and echoed his new coach.

"They've got some great fans," Suh said moments after the Lions took him. "As you can see, they were vying for me to come there, and obviously they got their wish, and I'm not going to disappoint them at all."

One thing you notice about Suh: He's all business.

The draft process is a dizzying experience for top prospects — who not only train, go to the scouting combine and visit teams, but make endless media and marketing appearances. Suh seemed ready to return to football.

Suh certainly smiled at times. He played flag football with kids Wednesday at a clinic in Central Park. He posed for a picture for USA Today at the top of the Empire State Building, arms outstretched over Manhattan as if he were King Kong, not Ndamukong. But he usually kept his game face on.

Suh said he spent Thursday relaxing with his family. Then he rode to Radio City with Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, one of the game's all-time great pass rushers and personalities.

"LT was being LT," said McCoy, who went No. 3 overall to the Buccaneers. "Everything you all know, he was just being it to the fifth power because the cameras weren't on him. LT being LT is a lot of fun."

No one would reveal what they talked about, but Suh said Taylor was "very fiery" and he "learned a lot from him in a short amount of time." Suh and McCoy walked down the red carpet in front of Radio City, wearing dark sunglasses.

McCoy wept when he was drafted, mourning his late mother. Suh said "the emotions were just so high" when he received the call from the Lions, talking to officials from owner William Clay Ford on down, surrounded by family in the green room. But there were no tears, and soon after he posed for pictures on stage with Goodell, he started looking ahead.

Asked what he would do from that moment on, he said: "Train. Get ready to play. Get ready for minicamp. Get ready for OTAs.

"Obviously, I'm going (to Detroit) to earn a starting job. That's what I want to go and do. I don't want to be a backup. I want to go and earn a starting job. Obviously I know where I'm going to be for the next five or 10 years, and let's go get the work done."

Suh grew up with a strong work ethic. His father, Michael, is a mechanical engineer from Africa. His mother, Bernadette, is a teacher from Jamaica. They emphasized academics over athletics and wouldn't let him play football until he surpassed a 3.0 grade-point average as a freshman at Grant High in Portland, Ore.

While Suh stood out as a player in college — racking up stats and winning awards — he also graduated with a degree in construction management.

"Yeah, obviously, I am somewhat smart," Suh said. "I've got some great parents and got some great genes, God-given talent, obviously, that I was given to play the game of football, and I'm definitely going to use it and build upon it."

Smart, strong, multidimensional and productive, Suh fits the profile outlined by Schwartz, who once succeeded as the Titans' defensive coordinator with another dominant tackle: Albert Haynesworth.

"I don't have a problem being compared to him, but I like to be my own player, my own person," Suh said. "I'm not ashamed by any means to learn from somebody else as great as Albert Haynesworth. But I like to be my own player and take bits and pieces from other players, other great players."

As Suh wrapped up his interviews at Radio City — just before he ducked down a basement hallway, on his way to celebrate with family and friends — he was asked: "Is Brett Favre going to be happy to see you?"

It was a lighthearted question. Suh hardly smiled.

Said Suh, "I don't think so."