May 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Nick Fairley healthy after sleep apnea surgery and determined to stay a Lion

Nick Fairley: “I am very healthy. I am feeling good. I can’t wait to get back with my guys." (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley took the field Saturday 27 pounds lighter than a few weeks ago, determined to show his team he should be a Lion for life.

OK. It wasn’t the football field. But Fairley appeared leaner as he took on Detroit area youth during the Third Annual Nick Fairley Kickball Tournament in Clark Park. He plans on appearing at Monday’s organized team activity at the Lions practice facility in Allen Park.

He missed earlier workouts recovering from surgery to help cure sleep apnea.

“I am very healthy,” he said. “I am feeling good. I can’t wait to get back with my guys. I had a little setback with my surgery, but I am feeling great. The recovery is good.”

Fairley might not be at full strength because he hasn’t eaten much the past two weeks following surgery. But he plans on a big season. That is what the Lions were counting on, which is one reason they declined to pick the fifth year on his rookie contract.

It was to motivate a guy whose work ethic has been questioned. Fairley said he was not upset about the team’s decision. He also said he has no plans of leaving the team when his contract expires at the end of the season.

“I am not going anywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere,” Fairley said. “We will be able to get something done. Things are going to work out great.”

Fairley on the contract

“It kind of worked out for both sides,” he said. “It gets me out of my rookie contract quicker. It kind of motivated me to keep working hard and to keep pushing. You can always take your game to a different level even if you are in your prime. You can always do something different. I am trying to do that.”

Fairley put on the weight in part to battle double teams, but now feels as if he needs to be leaner in order to chase down and keep up with quarterbacks. But fluctuating weigh has been a problem. He played at 290 pounds his final season at Auburn where he recorded 11.5 sacks and won the Lombardi Trophy as college football’s best lineman.

“I feel like I am back to my Auburn days,” Fairley said. “I feel good. My energy is there. I want to play consistent week in and week out. Sometimes I wasn’t showing up on plays like I should have.”

The Lions plan on being more aggressive on offense and sometimes using zone blitzes where linemen drop back in pass coverage. Fairley jokes that despite the weight loss he won’t be one of those guys.

“I am not planning on that,” he said, laughing. “Someone else will have to do that. I don’t think I will look good doing that. That’s my job, to get to the quarterback.”

Fairley played kickball as a child in Alabama and admits to being a big kid who enjoys fun and games.

“I would say it keeps me grounded,” Fairley said. “I have fun with the kids. I am a big kid. (In football) it helps big-time. I would say it keeps you loving the game. I love the game of football and I don’t think that can get away from me.”

Terry.Foster@detroitnews.com or 313-222-1494. twitter.com/TerryFoster971.

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