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Vaitai eager to get back to football after missing 2022 season

Halapoulivaati Vaitai is called 'Big V' for a reason.

At 6-6 and 320 pounds, he qualifies as a big man even in the company of his teammates on the Detroit Lions' offensive line.

Vaitai is back practicing with his teammates after missing all of the 2022 season with a back injury that required surgery.

Vaitai learned a couple things about himself in what amounted to a forced one-season retirement.

He wasn't ready to retreat to his 205-acre farm in Texas and leave football behind.

"Instead of just covering my head, I took that time to spend time with my kids and my family," Vaitai said after an OTA practice.

"Just to see what retirement would feel like."

It felt like he had some football left in him. With medical clearance Vaitai returned to the field to resume a career that began in 2016 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

This will be his third season at right guard for the Lions. He signed with the team as a free agent in 2020.

"I've got that chip on my shoulder," he said. "I'm going to come back strong."

Vaitai is popular with his teammates, and he remained close to the team while he was out with the injury. He enjoyed the camaraderie with teammates while he was out, but he had a hard time adjusting to being a spectator on gameday.

It was especially difficult when the Lions went on a run to win eight of their last 10 games and made a push to make the playoffs that fell a game short.

"It was eating me alive," he said. "I wished I was out there with the boys – especially on the offensive line."

Vaitai feels some urgency to play well from the beginning.

He is moving back into his position at right guard on one of the NFL's strongest offensive lines, and on a team favored to win the NFC North.

"I've got to do a little more," he said. "I feel like I took a step back. Now I've got to catch up and then keep going."

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