One of the qualities linebacker Anthony Pittman brings to his bid to make the Detroit Lions' roster is not measured in numbers, but it speaks volumes about the high regard in which he was held by his coaches and teammates at Wayne State for his character and leadership.
Pittman wears his emotions on his sleeve as a player. What he had on his back in one memorable incident told even more about his makeup.
As part of the commemoration of Wayne State's 100 years of athletics in the 2017 season, head coach Paul Winters had each player wear the name plate of a Medal of Honor winner on the back of his jersey.
Before the name plates were worn in games, Pittman was selected to model the jersey—with 20 minutes notice before the unveiling.
View the best photos of the linebackers from offseason workouts.
In acting terms, he played to type – with the natural enthusiasm that is part of his outgoing personality and the way he played for the Warriors. In other words, he wasn't acting. He was chosen to play himself.
"It was definitely a great honor for me," Pittman said of being chose to introduce the jersey.
"It's a real honor to wear the Medal of Honor recipient's name on my back. It meant a lot of things to me. Everybody looked their person up, and what they did. I did it with my person."
Pittman's research of Navy seaman James Stoddard discovered that he was born in Canada and enlisted in the Union Navy in Detroit during the Civil War. Stoddard and other members of his unit received the Medal of Honor for their actions in helping repulse a Confederate attack in Yazoo City, Miss.
Stoddard was wounded in the neck and continued to fight. He survived the wound.
"He recovered a Gatling gun, I believe, from behind enemy lines," Pittman said. "It was a risky mission. It helped win a battle.
"Coach (Winters) trusted me to do it (present the jersey). I had some juice and energy and excitement when I showed it to the guys."
The "juice and energy" and production Pittman played with as a four-year player at Wayne State is what got him signed as a free agent after he was not taken by any team in this year's draft.
He was not highly recruited out of Birmingham Groves High School and was a red-shirt as a true freshman in 2014. From there, he moved steadily up the rotation – a backup in 2015, seven starts in 2016 and first-team all-conference in 2017-18 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – one of the top Division II football conferences in the country.
Pittman also made the GLIAC All-Academic team in 2017-18 and graduated in December as a psychology major.
"It was a real accomplishment for me, being able to graduate," Pittman said. "It gives me a much greater opportunity to do what I want to do, even if it's not in football."
But it's football for now, and Pittman knows that as an undrafted free agent he has a long climb ahead of him to make the roster.
The Lions are on their summer break. Pittman is continuing to work out to prepare for camp and reviewing some situations he went through during the offseason workouts and minicamp. He did extra study work at night to prepare himself as well as he could during that practice period.
"I watched film every night during OTAs and minicamp – just trying to get mental reps as much as I can," he said.
Obviously, players will be judged on their entire body of work, not a flash here and there from the offseason workouts, but Pittman made a couple plays that stood out. One was an interception on a position drill in minicamp.
View the best photos from 2019 Detroit Lions minicamp.
"I just try to stand out anyway I can, whether it's full speed individually or in a team drill," he said. "It's just those little details that make a good football player even better. That's the difference between a rookie and a veteran."
It's still a kick for Pittman to be competing for a job with his home-town team.
He is using Davis as a role model, which is a good choice due to the third-year linebacker's work ethic and dedication to the game.
"He's definitely someone I look up to," he said. "He does a lot of things in the program. If I can keep up with J.D., maybe I can elevate my game even higher. He's a great role model. A great influence."