How new Detroit Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson celebrated No. 2 pick: ‘It’s great to be home’

Detroit Free Press

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LAS VEGAS — Aidan Hutchinson huddled with his family in the green room before the start of Thursday’s NFL draft and got choked up as his mother, Melissa, delivered a pep talk for the ages to Michigan’s first family of football.

“It was like, ‘Whoever doesn’t pick you, screw them,'” Hutchinson told the Free Press in a hallway at the Caesars Forum conference center. “Whoever picks me is going to get me and all of me and the whole fam, so that was kind of the pep talk. Everyone was getting a little emotional. I was getting a little emotional before I even got picked. And then when I got the call, I saw the whole fam, they were all crying and stuff. I didn’t cry too much, but I kind of had that emotional moment before. But, man, it’s great to be at home.”

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The Detroit Lions kept Hutchinson, a Michigan native and the star of the Wolverines‘ Big Ten championship team, local when they made him the second pick of Thursday’s first round.

Considered by many the No. 1 player in the draft, Hutchinson was long projected to be the first pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, a sentiment that changed quickly in recent days.

Hutchinson said his agent, Mike McCartney, told him Wednesday there was a 90% chance the Jaguars were going in another direction, news that Hutchinson took as cosmic intervention.

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The Jaguars started the draft Thursday by selecting Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, and when a call ID’d from “Detroit, MI” buzzed his cell phone shortly after the Lions went on the clock, Hutchinson clapped his hands and told himself, “Thank the Lord.”

“I like staying home,” Hutchinson said. “I like being close to my family. I’m very close with them and so being able to stay in Michigan, maybe I’ll be able to unite the Michigan and Michigan State fans a little bit. But I’ve always loved the Lions and just being able to stay home now and just make the transition easier, I love Michigan.”

The Lions had internal discussions about taking Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with the No. 2 pick, and there was some sentiment in the building to make that to happen.

But Lions coach Dan Campbell considered Hutchinson the best culture fit for his organization in the draft and a potential impact player at a major position of need.

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The Lions finished 27th in the NFL in sack rate in last year’s 3-13-1 season and 31st in points allowed.

“Listen, we deserve this player, we do,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn told reporters in Allen Park after the pick. “And this player deserves us also as a coaching staff. Again, we’re excited, this is a good time for Detroit.”

Hutchinson said he hit it off with Glenn on his local day visit to the Lions’ Allen Park practice facility. The two spent nearly 45 minutes talking, mostly about life, family and Hutchinson’s goals, and only got around to football in the last 20 or so minutes.

Glenn said he sees Hutchinson as a moveable piece on the Lions defensive line — Hutchinson played primarily as an edge rusher last season, but played inside as a three technique his freshman year. And Hutchinson said his ferocious playing style and dogged determination are “100%” a fit for what Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are trying to build in Detroit.

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“I think relentless players have a lot of success in the NFL, so whenever I’m on that field I’m relentless,” Hutchinson said. “I’m getting after the quarterback and just playing with a lot of heart.”

Hutchinson set Michigan’s single-season record with 14 sacks last season while leading the Wolverines to their first College Football Playoff appearance.

He was a two-time captain at Dearborn Divine Chile, the same school where his father, Chris, played, and he said it’s important for him to continue building his football legacy a short drive from his childhood home in Plymouth.

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“I’ve been to a couple Lions games in the past,” Hutchinson said. “The atmosphere is great, but I know when Detroit’s winning, I mean, that fanbase is crazy. It’s awesome.”

Surrounded by family in the green room before the draft and with a smattering of close friends looking on from the crowd, Hutchinson said it was meaningful for him to share “the biggest day of my life” with those who helped guide his football career.

He wore a black suit with a silk lining inside the left breast inscribed with entries from journals he has written over the years, and he hung a sparkling silver replica of the dog tag his great-grandfather, Joseph Bernardi, wore during World War II around his neck.

Bernardi, an Army Ranger, was part of a group known as “Merrill’s Marauders” that penetrated the Burmese jungles in 1944. Of the approximately 2,000 soldiers who took part in the mission, Hutchinson said his grandfather was one of only about 200 who survived.

“He really holds a special place in my heart,” said Hutchinson, whose middle name is Joseph Bernardi. “We had a really good relationship growing up. Obviously, he passed away when I was younger, but he was always a real rock in our family and I know he’s always been with me since he’s passed so I wanted to wear him on my neck on the biggest day of my life.”

Hutchinson said his heart was “fricking racing” when he walked on stage to shake NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand. The two bear-hugged, and Hutchinson waved his arms to pump up the crowd.

The moment was just as he envisioned it would be — the first of many thrilling memories he hopes to have as a Lion.

The rest, he said, revolve around one thing.

“Hopefully a lot of winning,” he said. “A lot of playoff games and some Super Bowls, for sure.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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Aidan Hutchinson, the Detroit Lions’ top NFL draft pick in 2022

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