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Amon-Ra St. Brown as told to Eric Woodyard
Editor’s note: Taken in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown exceeded outside expectations in Year 1, breaking franchise records for most receiving yards and most receptions in a season by a rookie. He ended the year with eight or more catches in six consecutive games, which surpassed Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson for the team record. St. Brown spoke in depth with ESPN Lions reporter Eric Woodyard about his first NFL season.
Some quotes were edited for clarity and brevity.
Whenever I start something or go somewhere new, I always gotta make sure I set the tone. It’s been like that my whole life.
No one on the Lions really knew who I was. Yeah, they drafted me, so obviously they did their research, but they didn’t know who I really was, what I’m about, how I play and my intensity, so that was my mindset coming into training camp. Obviously, the draft … already fueled me enough by being picked in the fourth round. Then, once they understood, it was time for me to really just perfect my craft and hone in on my skills.
There was one particular moment I’ll never forget. It was just a special teams’ drill, so basically a one-on-one block. It was almost like simulating a kickoff return with a kickoff cover and you’ve got to make that block once it hits the 20-yard line for the returner. So, we were just practicing that drill on special teams and it was the first day with pads on at our practice facility in Allen Park and everyone knows how the first few days with pads go. After not being in pads for like six months or so, dudes want to hit. It was fun, but I was out there and my fellow rookie teammate Ifeatu Melifonwu came to me, I blocked him hard, then after the play he kind of hit me and I hit him back and then that was kind of how it started. It was definitely nothing too crazy, but it was a scuffle.
Another thing I brought to Detroit was a longtime drill of catching 202 balls from the JUGS machine after every practice. My teammate Kalif Raymond, he saw me catch those balls early on, and then after the third or fourth day of practice, he started joining me. Catching balls on the JUGS is more than just catching the ball. It’s mental. If you go out there and drop a ball in the game, you’re not really worried about it, but you see some players that if they drop a ball, it’s in their head for the rest of the game or the rest of the quarter. For me, if I drop a ball I’m not worried because I’ve caught thousands of balls leading up to this game.
When we were younger, we did the whole 7-on-7 circuits in Southern California where it’s huge, going into high school, and we met this one dude as a kid who was probably a freshman in high school. I can’t remember his name. What I do remember is that he had pretty good hands for being a freshman, and my dad was like, “Man, I wonder what he does to have such good hands?” So he went up to his father and was talking to him and his dad told him they bought a JUGS machine and they catch 200 balls on there every day, so my dad was like, “Wow, we’ve got to get one of those.” So he ended up getting one and he said, “You know what? We’re gonna do 202, because if we do 200 we’re gonna be like him. We’ve got to be better.” So, 202 has always been that number for me and it’s a cool story, but also keeps me motivated knowing that I’m doing a little more if someone’s doing 200.
All of that was cool in training camp, but I’m not used to losing. So to start my pro career 0-8, it was definitely something new. We had a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies, a lot of undrafted guys playing, a lot of second and third-year guys that were so hungry to win and just to play so for us, and obviously our coach Dan Campbell, he makes everything better because he’s super motivated and he always keeps us hungry and ready. We would go out there and I feel like we lost so many games, so close, that we knew we were so close to winning these games, but it was just little things we had to clean up. But the locker room, the people around us, the coaches, we all were in it together and we never really quit.
I remember when we played the San Francisco 49ers the first game of the season and I blocked Nick Bosa. I was like, “Damn, I really just hit Nick Bosa,” so that was the first time I really thought, “Man, I’m in the league.” And then after that it was pretty much normal until another moment when we played the Minnesota Vikings and Patrick Peterson was playing DB, and growing up, I had watched Patrick Peterson on the Arizona Cardinals for a long time, so to actually go up against him I was like, “Man that’s crazy.” But the crazy part is, when you’re in the game, you’re not really thinking about it because you’re so worried about the play and what you have to do but it’s only before and after the game where you’re like, “Yo, I really just went against Patrick Peterson.” Those, I would say were two moments where I felt like I was in the league.
Living in Michigan for the first time was definitely cold. I’ll admit, I have seen snow before. I went snowboarding when I was younger, but I’ve never lived in snow so it definitely was the first time where I had to drive in snow or walk around to go to the store and actually walk in snow. The first time driving in snow, I tried to hit the brakes and it started skidding and making like this noise. I was like, “Oh, no” because I was about to hit a red light too, so I was all nervous but I was luckily going slow enough to where I was able to stop, but then after that I was going really slow even making my turns.
The first time I saw someone in my jersey was when my parents came to the game against the 49ers and someone had one made. The funny story behind this is that my friends back home have wanted a jersey of mine for the longest and they would tell me that it’s not on the website. I was like the only player without my jersey on the website. So, around Week 7, I hit up the NFLPA dude and told him, “Yo, my jersey isn’t on the website, is there a way we can get it on there? I’ve got some friends and family that want to buy it.” So, he goes, “Yeah, let me talk to them,” and they ended up figuring it out and then about five weeks later, that’s when I had that game-winning touchdown against Minnesota. So, it was kind of ironic how it all worked out, but later in the year I remembered seeing many more fans with my jersey. It was cool definitely to have people supporting you by directly wearing your jersey.
Another cool first experience was getting that first win against Minnesota in Week 13. That was my most memorable game because not only was it my first touchdown, but it was the game-winner with zero seconds left on the clock as a walk-off. It was also our first win of the season and it was for the whole Oxford, Michigan community after the tragic high school shooting that happened that same week. So just everything combined made it my most memorable game probably of my life.
When I got off the field after that Vikings win, on Instagram, I had about 30-40 messages then on my phone. When I got in the locker room, I was just scrolling down on my phone of all the texts, it was awesome to have all these friends that support me, that are happy for me, my family that’s excited for me and even the people I hadn’t talked to in a long time that said, “Congratulations.” Honestly, I didn’t celebrate too much. After the game, I went to dinner with my girlfriend, went back home and that’s it.
Another thing that I was proud of this season was being named an ambassador of Unite Health Share Ministries (UHSM), which is a faith-based health care non-profit. We actually did something really cool for that last regular-season game against the Green Bay Packers. We gave away four VIP tickets to two winners. It was probably a good springboard to that game, too, because we won.
Coming in, you don’t really know what to expect in the NFL. Being a rookie, you’re new. You’re just trying to make the team coming out of camp. Then after you make the team, you want to figure out how to get on the field and make plays and then once you make plays, you want to figure out how to keep making those plays and be a consistent player for your team. So, for me, that process of going from the start to the end, was a steady upward climb for me, but now, for me, it’s starting to become a leader. I want to help the younger guys moving forward, with those that we draft. I feel like we’ve got a really young team with a lot of young talented players. I feel like we’ve got a shot to do something if we can just all come together and be one and really have each other’s back, we’ll be pretty good moving forward.
I don’t really have anything to say about the people who may feel like my rookie season was a fluke. All I can do is try to prove them wrong. For me, I’m not really worried about other people. I’m worried about myself, the team and what I know I can do. As a receiver, there’s so many little things that you can do. A lot of drills, getting in and out of your breaks, catching the ball, working my releases off press, getting stronger, working on your balance. I’m not gonna stop what I do now. I feel like a lot of guys, they have success or they don’t because they stop doing what they’ve been doing their whole life. So for me, catching those balls is going to be something I do every day, even once I start working out again. That’s something I do every day. I’ve got a JUGS here at the house. It’s shown that it works and I have confidence that it works.
That would be awesome if I can stay in Detroit my whole career and be that centerpiece. It’s a lot of great Hall of Famers like Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders and Matthew Stafford. Even in basketball, you look at Ben Wallace and guys like that where the city of Detroit loves them. I think Detroit has a fan base that is really loyal, that loves their guys. It’s tough to find nowadays especially living out in Los Angeles and being where I’m from; for a lot of these fans, if the team is not winning they’re not really caring, but if they are winning, they’ll go to the games in the West, but in Detroit, they’re there every week. I really love the fans in Detroit. They’re awesome but to be a centerpiece like that would definitely be a lifetime goal of mine.