The Falcons are the state’s team. The Jaguars’ den is just over 70 miles south. But a significant swatch of NFL fans in the Golden Isles may find themselves pulling for the Lions this season.
Detroit strengthened its position as the unofficial team of Brunswick this offseason when it added free agent Justin Coleman to its stable of former Brunswick High Pirates, reuniting him with Darius Slay and Tracy Walker in the Lions’ secondary.
The trio never played together at BHS as Walker missed his second cousin Slay by a year, but now all three will be united in the same defensive backfield.
“It was definitely a dream that we would come together at some point,” Coleman said at his introductory press conference with the Lions in March. “I kind of looked up to (Slay) as a young kid to get to where he was going, because I knew he was going to do something big with his life.”
Although Coleman, Slay and Walker each ended up at the same destination, each player’s journey has been markedly different.
Coleman and Slay were each named to the Associated Press All-State First Team in their respective senior seasons at Brunswick High, and the duo teamed up to win a state track championship in the 4x100 relay.
A Rivals four-star prospect, Coleman committed to the University of Tennessee in 2010 and earned immediate playing time, appearing in 12 games as a true freshman, including four starts. In four years as a Volunteer, Coleman started 38 of the 48 games he played in, recording 157 tackles, five interceptions, and 17 passes defensed.
However, despite the college production and a strong combine, the 5-foot-11 Coleman went undrafted in 2015. He signed a contract with the Minnesota Vikings and waived as part of the team’s final roster cuts.
The New England Patriots claimed Coleman off waivers and released him the following day, and a day later, the Seattle Seahawks signed him to their practice squad.
But Coleman would soon be on the move again and back in New England just four days after the Patriots had released him as the team signed him to the active roster from the Seahawks’ practice squad. Finally on an active roster, Coleman made the most of his opportunity, appearing in 20 games with the Patriots and defensing five passes in his role as a reserve corner.
It would be Coleman’s third season in the NFL that he really found his footing when the Seahawks dealt a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft to the Patriots for the cornerback. In 32 games with Seattle, including 10 starts, Coleman developed into one of the best slot corners in the league as he tallied 90 tackles, 19 passes defensed, three interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.
Slay graduated from Brunswick High in 2009, and though he committed to Mississippi State as a two-star prospect, he was initially forced to go the junior college route and spend two years at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., where he earned two consecutive Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State First Team nods.
After recommitting to Mississippi State in 2011, Slay put together two more strong seasons, including a senior campaign that saw him lead the SEC with five interceptions, and parlayed it into a second-round selection of Detroit in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Standing 6-feet with long arms and a 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash, Slay was a fast-rising prospect and he’s rewarded the Lions’ belief in him by quickly developing into one of the top corners in the league.
In 89 pro games, Slay has made 301 tackles and 17 interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons, and he was named an AP First Team All-Pro in 2017 after snagging a league-high eight interceptions.
Walker was also a two-sport athlete in high school, earning First Team All-Region honors in football while leading the Pirates’ basketball team to a 22-8 record and a quarterfinal appearance in the state playoffs.
Hoops were Walker’s first love — he didn’t play organized football until his junior year — but his 6-2 frame and the ability to slide his feet and mirror an opposing receiver made him a natural on the gridiron and earned him a scholarship from Louisiana-Lafayette as a two-star prospect in 2013.
His limited experience playing football necessitated a redshirt season, but when Walker hit the field as a Ragin’ Cajun, he made an immediate impact. Walker appeared in all 13 games his redshirt season, earning starts in the final eight and finishing the season tied for the team lead with two interceptions and seventh in tackles with 44.
Over four seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette, Walker played in 50 games while recording eight interceptions and 18 pass break ups. His 276 tackles rank him third all-time in program history for tackles by a defensive back.
The Detroit Lions drafted Walker in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, prompting Slay to tweet: “Yes sir wick is in the building…. welcome fam [Tracy Walker] this is crazy….”
Roaming the same secondary as Slay, Walker finished his rookie season with 21 tackles and an interceptions from his spot at safety.
In need of another upgrade in the defensive backfield this offseason, the Lions went back to the well in Brunswick to bring in Coleman — a versatile defender with the ability to play anywhere in the secondary.
Again, Slay was one of the first to congratulate his former, and soon to be current once more, teammate.
“It’s crazy to have three guys on the same team that were on a high school team together,” Slay said this summer. “It really doesn’t happen like that. It’s a true blessing.
“Now I’m ready to get to work with them boys and have fun.”
Detroit signed Coleman to a four-year, $36M deal, making him the highest-paid nickel corner in the league two years after it gave Slay a four-year, $48M extension.
By the end of the season, including the $2M Walker will have made in two years on a rookie deal, the Detroit Lions will have paid out at least $57M to Brunswick High graduates since 2013.
“Shoutout to the D,” Slay said.