Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Kevin Strong was in college at Texas San Antonio when he received the call from his mother Tanisha that his father Kevin had lung cancer.
“When I first found out my dad had cancer ... I just was in shock,” Strong said Wednesday, thinking back to that moment. “Talking to my mom and my family and stuff, I couldn’t let him see me down. That wouldn’t be right for him. She taught me how to just keep on being motivated and just keep your head up smiling.”
Strong was all smiles after Wednesday’s joint practice with the Texans. His return to Texas has allowed him to see and spend time with his dad and his family, who made the roughly 45 minute drive from Cleveland, Texas, to see their son and cheer him on.
The Strong family was decked out in Lions gear for Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s full support,” Strong said. “It’s family. I love them and they love me. They’ve been with me through every step of the way. They got me through a lot of stuff I didn’t think I could take on my own.”
Strong said he and his father made a vow after Kevin was signed by the Lions as a free agent following the draft.
“As long as he keeps pushing, I’m going to keep pushing,” Strong said. “I’m going to keep pushing all day and I know he will too. It’s battle for battle. We are just going to keep on going and get through the process.
“Seeing him push through one of the hardest things you can go through in life. He’s fighting with his health today. All I got to do is get up and come play football and keep him excited. I just try to keep everyone happy and be an inspiration the best I can.”
Strong said every time he’s seen his father he’s been smiling, and is never down or upset or mad. The elder Strong is always positive, and that’s been big motivation for Kevin as he fights to make this football team on an already deep defensive line.
Strong started 40 games over his UTSA career, registering 106 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Lions defensive line coach Bo Davis was Strong’s position coach at UTSA his junior season, so there is some familiarity there.
“Kevin is working really hard,” head coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s doing a good job for us and being consistent. I think one of the things that was great was, when Kevin introduced himself and told us a little bit about himself, he said that he had never left Texas.
“So, he came up to Detroit and now he’s back. It’s good, he’s been working really hard. He’s a guy that doesn’t say much, but just is the same guy every day when he comes to work. That’s something we really appreciate because we know that when you have that sort of mentality, we can work with you to try to get better.”
It's been tough for Strong to be outside of Texas and away from his family, but these joint practices have given him the opportunity to not only get some good work in, but also see his family and give his dad a hug.
“It’ll be good to see them multiple times before I have to go back,” Strong said. “I really can’t explain the feeling. When I was walking off (the field) the first period I saw my whole family sitting there and my dad sitting there and it just made my eyes get big. It’s good to have support all the way around , but it’s lovely to see him be here and keep on pushing.”