October 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm

John Niyo

Stefan Logan's hard work yields big returns for Lions

Stefan Logan has sparked the Lions and is one of the top returners in the NFL, ranking fourth with 30.2 yards per kickoff return. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

Allen Park There's probably a joke in here somewhere, what with the little guy dressed in black — the son of a mortician, no less — showing up on the Lions doorstep a couple months ago, ready to help resuscitate a team we'd all given last rites to long ago.

But before you talk to Stefan Logan about the work he's doing — fast becoming a fan favorite as one of the NFL's top kick returners — you have to talk about the work he used to do before.

And not just bagging groceries at Publix or packaging radios at a Motorola factory, waiting for a college scholarship that wasn't going to come. No, there was also the job he took helping out his father, Michael, a mortician at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

So, well, um … what's that like?

"When you're working with dead bodies, you're doing everything," laughs Logan, who helped his dad prepare cadavers used for research. "I mean, I've seen it all. Heads. Arms. A bucket full of hearts. All kinds of stuff. It was crazy. … It was kind of hard to say, 'Hey, let's go grab lunch' after that."

And no disrespect to his father, Logan says, but "that wasn't the job for me."

Still, convincing everyone — or anyone — football was the job for him wasn't going to be easy for Logan, who at 5-foot-6 doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd.

He'd played only one year at Miami's Jackson High, and it wasn't until a few years after that he finally found a college willing to give him a shot in a helmet and pads. He and his father put together a highlight reel with an extra VCR they bought, and months after sending copies to schools, he got a call from South Dakota, a Division II program, offering him a tryout.

Logan jumped at the chance, then made the most of it, becoming the school's career leader in rushing and all-purpose yards. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy as the Division II player of the year.

But all that got him was a minicamp tryout with the Giants, and later, a six-week stint on the Dolphins practice squad, and then another pink slip.

Why? Bill Parcells, then head honcho for the Dolphins, "wasn't too fond of how big I was," Logan said.

'Gives you hope'

So in 2008, it was off to the land of football Lilliputians, the Canadian Football League, where Logan proved himself all over again as one of the league's top rushers for the British Columbia Lions.

That earned him another shot at the NFL, signing with Pittsburgh, where he made the roster as a 28-year-old rookie and went on to set the franchise's season record for kickoff return yardage last year.

Finally, he'd made it.

Or so he thought.

The Steelers decided they wanted more, handing the return job to rookie receivers Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and Emmanuel Sanders and making Logan one of their final cuts.

"Nobody saw that coming," Logan said, before adding with a shrug, "but like my mom always tells me: When one door closes, another door opens."

And to their credit, the Lions — desperately seeking a spark for their return game — couldn't open their doors fast enough.

Danny Crossman, the special teams coordinator for the Lions, watched Logan return a punt 80 yards for a touchdown against his Panthers a year ago during an exhibition, "and he was a guy that I was always intrigued with because of his speed and his freakin' toughness."

So as soon as Logan hit the waiver wire, Crossman fired off text messages to general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz, who didn't need much convincing to put in a claim. Because what Logan lacks in stature, he makes up for in strength — he's a solid 185 pounds — and drive.

"I mean, he's a football player, above anything else," Crossman said. "He's tough, he's smart, he's physical, and he'll do everything and anything you ask him to do."

And then some.

Logan is fourth in the NFL in kickoff returns with a 30.2 average. And while the addition of Crossman and a handful of new players certainly have made a difference, there's no denying Logan's impact.

"He doesn't need the perfect blocks — you just get in front of your man and he'll make something happen," said linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba, a special teams ace signed from Oakland.

"When you have somebody like that, he gives you hope. So we go out there with that attitude, that given the opportunity, he's gonna take one to the house for us."

He did it against St. Louis, kick-starting Detroit's first victory with a 105-yard kickoff return — the longest play in the NFL this season.

But what you may not have noticed was Logan assisting on the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, a day after Crossman challenged him to do just that in a meeting.

It's something he'd seen Rod "He Hate Me" Smart do for the Panthers in 2003.

And the coach couldn't help but smile when he saw Logan, who'd recovered a pair of fumbles a week earlier against the Packers, do it against the Rams.

"After the play, Nate Burleson's screaming at me, 'He Hate Me! He Hate Me!'"Crossman said, laughing.

'Part of life'

And really now, all joking aside, what's not to love about this story?

After that Rams game, Logan saved the game ball for his father, who's battling kidney failure — he's on dialysis three days a week — but managed to make it to Detroit for the game.

"Me going through what I've been through to make it to the NFL, it's been tough," Logan said. "But knowing what I know, I'll tell anybody, 'Don't give up. Have faith and believe in yourself and you can get it done.'

"You'll stumble along the way, but you'll be fine. That's just a part of life."

john.niyo@detnews.com

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Logan was given oxygen after his 105-yard kickoff return against the Rams. ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
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