Josh Paschal has big goals for his rookie season with the Detroit Lions, and they go beyond what he and his new running mate, first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson, can do on the field.
“I’m a guy that can change locker rooms,” Paschal, the Lions’ second-round pick, No. 46 overall, said Friday in a video conference with Detroit reporters. “That’s my goal is to come in, learn from the guys, the veterans there, but also step into a leadership role.”
A first-team All-SEC selection as a defensive lineman, Paschal earned high marks from scouts in the pre-draft process for his play on the field and his character and leadership off it.
He won the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award last season after he led a peaceful march against racial injustice in downtown Lexington in summer 2020. He was voted the only three-time full-season captain in Kentucky football history.
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And one scout, in describing Paschal to the Free Press earlier this month, said he was so highly regarded from a character standpoint that “he could be president” one day.
“You’re wowed when you turn on the tape, but then you find out about the human being and you’re just impressed even more,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said.
Paschal said politics are not in his future. He wants to play football “as long as I can,” then maybe go into coaching. And he attributed his leadership traits to being “around a lot of great leaders (who) helped me become the leader I am.”
“I just think that I’m a relatable guy,” Paschal said. “I believe that every person you lead you have to have that bond with, but some guys respond best to calling somebody out and some guys respond best to pulling somebody to the side. Going into Detroit now, I’m going to be able to really take it all in this first year and be able to learn from the veterans.”
A three-year starter for the Wildcats, Paschal had 13½ sacks in 52 career games.
He missed most of the 2018 season after he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in his right foot that he said gave him new perspective on the sport and life.
In an essay for the American Academy for Dermatolgy Association, Paschal wrote that he was bothered by a stinging sensation on the base of his foot. He underwent three surgeries and months of immunotherapy treatment, and returned to play the final three games of the season.
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“I learned a lot throughout that whole time,” he said Friday. “I learned not to take not only this game but life for granted, and take every day and every moment as a blessing no matter if it’s going out there on that practice field or if it’s just waking up in the morning. Everything’s a blessing. I’m beyond blessed to be in this position I’m in now, and I feel like everything came full circle and I’m beyond blessed to be a Lion.”
In Detroit, Paschal should play a key role on the Lions’ revamped defensive line this fall.
Hutchinson is expected to start at one end position, and the Lions return last year’s sack leader Charles Harris and expect to get Romeo Okwara back from a torn Achilles tendon at some point this summer. But Holmes said Paschal has the versatility as an edge setter and interior pass rusher to play significant snaps as a rookie.
“He’s a football player, and that’s what we talk about all the time,” Holmes said. “Not one of these guys that we’ve acquired aren’t gritty. So that’s what all these guys are. These guys are gritty football players. Josh is one, but he’s more than that. He has outstanding intangibles and character and he should be able to contribute hopefully soon.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
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