Detroit Cass Tech could have four former players in 2023 NFL Draft

Detroit News

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner made the Detroit Public School League proud when he was the highest-ranked player from the league to be picked in the NFL draft when he was selected by the New York Jets with the No. 4 overall pick Thursday night.

Gardner helped Detroit King earn the Division 3 state championship in 2018 before becoming an All-America cornerback at Cincinnati, helping the Bearcats reach the College Football Playoff last season.

Expect Detroit Cass Tech to be well represented in the 2023 NFL Draft — with the possibility of several players being picked in the three-day event, including Central Michigan running back Lew Nichols III, a possible second- or third-round pick.

Nichols led the nation in rushing last fall with the Chippewas, running for 1,848 yards (5.4-yard average) and 16 touchdowns, while also grabbing 40 passes out of the backfield.

Former Cass Tech players DeAndre Square (Kentucky linebacker), Devin Nicholson (Missouri linebacker), Jalen Graham (Purdue safety/linebacker) and Jaren Mangham (South Florida running back) are also possible draft picks next year.

Mangham shared the same backfield with Nichols at Cass Tech in 2018, when Cass Tech won the PSL title. Mangham rushed for 15 TDs for South Florida last season.

Marv Rushing, who completed his first year as head coach at Cass Tech last fall, watched Nichols practice at Central Michigan last month.

“We were up there about a month ago for spring ball and talking to the coaches, and they couldn’t be more pleased with his work ethic,” Rushing said of Nichols. “He’s humble, and I was told that there were multiple inquiries coming in — even from the SEC (for possible transfer possibilities) — and he never batted an eye, stayed loyal to CMU. To be honest, he had opportunities to go Power Five out of high school. It wasn’t the thing that interested him. He just wanted to be close to family and play at a high level, and if you look at the draft this past weekend, Central produces.

“I wasn’t surprised (with Nichols’ success). He’s a heck of a kid, great work ethic, just humble where you’d think he was just a freshman. His approach hasn’t changed. We had a great 1-2 punch with him and Mangham at Cass, and Mangham is doing really well at South Florida, at one point was leading the country in rushing touchdowns.

“I think (Mangham) has a great chance to play at the next level, since you’re talking about a guy who can pass (protect), runs the ball really well and has great hands out of the backfield. I definitely think he’ll have a chance to play at the next level.”

Central Michigan had a pair of offensive linemen drafted last week, when Tampa Bay picked Luke Goedeke in the second round (57th overall) and the Colts selected Bernhard Raimann in the third round (77th overall).

Mangham started his career at Colorado, earning a spot on the Freshmen All-Pac-12 team before moving on to South Florida after Mel Tucker left Colorado to become head coach at Michigan State.

Square had 81 tackles, including 9½ for loss, last season and grabbed an interception in the final minutes to help Kentucky defeat Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

Nicholson had 50 tackles last season, a forced fumble, and got in on nine stops against Kentucky. He had 82 tackles in 2020, including three games with 13 tackles.

“I know there’s a lot more work that needs to be put in since a lot of college athletes and players have the same aspirations and goals,” said Nicholson in a phone interview with The News on Sunday. My mindset is my strength, how I’m able to see things, watch film and then be able to see them in game-day reality. I’ve played all over — even lined up off the edge — just anywhere, really.

“I feel that playing in the SEC has helped me. Just being able to play against some of the top-level athletes in college football atmosphere week in and week out gets you ready. I believe the SEC had the most players drafted, and getting the chance to play against a lot of those players makes it more clear on the reality of it.”

Cass Tech had two players chosen in the 2020 NFL Draft: offensive lineman Mike Onwenu (Michigan) by the New England Patriots and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan) by the Cleveland Browns.

Cass Tech had five players in the NFL in 2020, ranking only behind three other high schools: St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Allen (Texas) and Deerfield Beach (Fla.).

“It’s great, just the culture and the atmosphere, the morals that we’re taught throughout Cass and just the mindset is a great thing, especially when there’s people from the high school who come back and tell their stories on how they go there,” Nicholson said.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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