By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT - With their second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected running back Ameer Abdullah, a standout at Nebraska and a product of the early frontrunners for Parents of the Year. Abdullah is the youngest of nine children, and all of them are college graduates.
He says his upbringing played a major role in his ascent to the NFL. While he racked up 4,744 yards and 39 touchdowns in his college career, he also turned heads for his work in the community and his academics. Growing up, succeeding in school was a focus of the family, Abdullah said, but it was more of an understood expectation rather than one that was hammered into him.
"You would've been the oddball if you didn't," Abdullah said with a laugh. "You don't want to be that guy."
He recited the names of his siblings and where they went to school, noting the higher-level degrees of some of them and the progress of others.
"Oldest sister, Halimah, graduated from the University of Alabama," Abdullah began. "Oldest brother Muhammad went to undergrad at Alabama State and went to law school at Alabama. Sister Ruqayyah went to UAB. Sister Aisha went to Talladega. Khadija went to Tuskegee. Kareemah went to Clark.
"Madinah, she went to undergrad at Alabama A&M," Abdullah continued. "She's about to graduate pharmacy school from the University of Samford. Brother Kareem graduated from the University of Auburn. Then there's me at Nebraska."
Abdullah said the number of children in the family did not create pressure for him to earn a scholarship, but he definitely wanted to follow in the steps of his siblings who did.
"We all just wanted to compete with each other," Abdullah said. "It was inspirational when we saw someone else achieve something. You wanted to be in that same light.
"When I saw my sister Madinah, who was All-State in basketball, track and volleyball, get her volleyball scholarship to Alabama A&M, I was like, 'Wow, what a great feeling to take that financial burden off my parents. I want to be that,'" Abdullah added.
Given that background, it is not surprising the Lions anticipate Abdullah, a three-time captain at Nebraska, will add leadership to the locker room as well as ability on the field.
"Leadership is all about influence," Abdullah said. "You don't always have to be a vocal leader, a big rah-rah guy. You don't always have to be the person that's the center of attention, but I feel like I've always had a good influence by the way I work."
Abdullah impressed Lions head coach Jim Caldwell right away, the coach recalled Saturday at the running back's introductory press conference at Allen Park.
"The first time we met him at the Senior Bowl, after we finished with his interview, I said to myself and I wrote my notes down, I said, 'This is a guy that has some really special qualities,'" Caldwell said. "A young man that has a lot of talent, that's without question. He has character. You can see he exudes character and everything that he's done he's improved every single year that he's been out playing football, particularly at Nebraska ... Extremely disciplined, takes care of himself in a great way.
"He does all those things and he has tremendous passion for the game, loves the game, lives the game, plays with a chip on his shoulder and is looking to carve a niche in this league as well," Caldwell continued. "So we're certainly happy to have him."
The feeling is mutual. That first encounter made an impression on Abdullah, too.
"I left the meeting feeling pretty good," Abdullah said. "I remember Coach Curtis [Modkins], the running backs coach, and I loved his personality. I was hoping that it was them who was going to make the call."
What Abdullah does on the field, of course, is what will ultimately matter most for the Lions. Abdullah should have plenty of opportunity since Detroit parted ways with veteran Reggie Bush after the season.
Both the run game and special teams are areas Detroit has been vocal about wanting to improve in the 2015 season, and Abdullah could have a pivotal role in both, with the Lions planning to use him in the return game as well as in the backfield.
The addition of Abdullah was only one part of Detroit's push to bolster the run game, which ranked 28th last season; the Lions also drafted two offensive linemen (and acquired another via trade) and a fullback.
"Running the ball is really important," Mayhew said Friday. "It keeps the other offense off the field and helps with possession of the ball, the ability to close out games running the football, and we did that a few times last year.
"We have to get better running it and need good balance," Mayhew said. "We have needed that for some time."
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