Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers discuss the Lions' loss, Golden Tate's touchdown that wasn't, and the upcoming game at Minnesota. Detroit News
Allen Park — No matter where Tim Lelito’s NFL career took him, he always kept an eye on the Lions.
And after four years, the former St. Clair High and Grand Valley State standout has finally found his way back home.
Lelito, who was released by the Titans earlier this month, came in for a workout with Detroit on Saturday. Afterward, he was told to stick around and wait by his phone.
Then on Monday, he received the news that he had been waiting for — he was going to be a Detroit Lion.
“It was pretty crazy,” Lelito said Wednesday before practice. “I was running around doing stuff for my foundation (Lelito’s Legacy Foundation), so once I got that phone call, everyone was in the room at the same time so they were all freaking out.
“It didn’t hit me until after I hung up the phone. I could see their faces during the phone call, but after I hung up the phone it was like this is going to be huge. Being able to come home and play for the hometown team I grew up watching is pretty special.”
This past weekend wasn’t the first time Lelito, 28, and the Lions have been in contact. He was in discussions with the team as a free agent over the summer following a four-year stay with the Saints.
However, things didn’t work out, and he eventually jumped at an opportunity to join the Titans.
“I was excited that I got to take the chance here in the offseason to come and visit, take a look around at the place and hopefully get signed,” he said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I went to Tennessee, but the second time was the charm. Coming back and being able to actually sign is huge.”
Lelito said he and his family were huge Lions fans and season-ticket holders growing up. And one of his fondest memories is gathering around the TV with his relatives and watching Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day game before dinner.
“It was one of those special moments that I have from my childhood,” he said.
Being back in the Metro Detroit area also gives him a chance to expand his reach and make a bigger impact in the community.
According to Lelito, his non-profit foundation helps provide financial assistant to youth programs and covers a “broad range” of charitable purposes. For example, his foundation helps kids who can’t afford the pay-to-play fee in St. Clair County schools, along with transportation and equipment.
“Most of my time will be spent here at home. I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” he said. “Most of my focus will be within the area, and I mean the focus obviously during the season is football, but I don’t have to worry about traveling back and forth somewhere like when I was down in Tennessee or New Orleans to see these people on these dates and things like that. Now I’m here and I’m home-based, so it’ll be a lot easier.”
What’s not quite as easy, though, is making the transition from one team to another in the middle of a season.
Lelito said the Lions run a similar scheme that he’s played in since his Grand Valley State days, but the challenging part is learning the team’s play calls and terminology in a short amount of time. It’s one reason Lelito has been studying nonstop since being brought on board Monday.
“Especially with this offense, I’m trying to pick up everything as quickly as possible,” he said. “When I’m not talking to you (media) or out on the field, I’m trying to be in the playbook.
“I was in the playbook all day yesterday when I went home, sitting there trying to get everything. I’m coming in and asking these guys, ‘Hey, what’s this call here and there?’ ”
As Lelito catches up to speed, he gives the Lions’ offensive line much-needed depth, versatility and experience at the center and guard positions. After going undrafted in 2013, he played in 63 games, with 24 starts, over the past four years in New Orleans.
While it’s unknown when — or if — he’ll see the field this season, Lelito is just grateful to be able to put on a Lions jersey.
“It’ll be awesome. It’ll be fantastic,” he said. “I’m excited to be here.”