For Jeff Lemon, playing for the Columbus Lions not only represents a chance to continue working toward his goal of playing in the NFL, it’s an opportunity to come home.
Football has taken the 26-year-old Lemon -- a 2004 graduate of Carver High -- all over the country, but now he is glad to be back in Columbus. Lemon and the rest of the Lions open their 2012 season on the road tonight against the Richmond Raiders in Virginia. Kickoff at the Richmond Coliseum is 7 p.m.
“After I graduated from Carver, I went to Fort Valley (State),” said Lemon, who plays defensive back for the Lions. “I redshirted there my first year, and one of the coaches wound up going to the College of DuPage (a junior college in Illinois), and I followed him. After I played there for a couple of years, I could play one year at a Division I school or two at a Division II school. I ended up going to the Division II school.”
That Division II school was Southwest Oklahoma State in Weatherford, Okla., where Lemon played in 2008-09. The Bulldogs are a part of the Lone Star Conference -- one of the toughest in Division II -- and even though he wasn’t taken in the 2010 NFL draft, Lemon honed his craft well enough for the Green Bay Packers to sign him as a priority free agent. He made it through organized team activities and was set to compete for a roster spot before a turf toe injury led to his release.
After recovering, Lemon attended workouts for several NFL, Canadian Football League and United Football League teams, but none of them signed him.
Now, Lemon is back in Columbus to play for the Lions, and he said he is going to enjoy it while he can.
“Coming back here to play, I just love it,” said Lemon, who is one of 17 rookies on the Lions’ roster. “Now, my mom can see me play again. When I was in Illinois and Oklahoma, she couldn’t see me play. I’m embracing this opportunity. It’s kind of crazier playing in front of your friends and family than playing in front of thousands of strangers. But it’s something I like a lot.”
With a roster full of players that have played for some of the most prestigious college programs in the country, Lemon said the team is full of potential.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” said Lemon. “A lot of guys on our roster are in the same position I am, where they’ve gotten a chance at the NFL and just not made it quite yet.”
While playing for the Lions at the start of this season is all well and good, Lemon still has higher goals in mind, and the time he spent with the Packers has whetted his appetite for the NFL.
“It’s not often you get a chance to come home and play for the home team, but, for me, the pay doesn’t even matter,” Lemon said. “I still have a burning desire to play in the NFL. I’m just using this experience and building on it. I’m treating every day like it’s a workout for a scout. There are some teams still talking to me, and, if I do well here in Columbus, I still could get a shot at an NFL mini-camp in May or June.”
“That’s why I’m embracing all this, because I might be 1,000 miles away soon.”