Detroit Lions' linebacker Tahir Whitehead jokes with football camp participants during a break in drills at Sylvania Northview on Tuesday. The four-day camp ends Thursday.
Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead built up a sweat while instructing a few dozen young football enthusiasts through some fundamental defensive drills on Tuesday morning at Cats Stadium.
Whitehead, a 6-foot-2, 233-pounder, attacked his role as a coach at the Detroit Lions Youth Football camp with the same energy and enthusiasm he uses chasing running backs at Ford Field.
"I feed off their energy and they'll feed off my energy," Whitehead said of his camp participants.
The Northview Lions camp is one of 29 and the only one offered outside Michigan.
The Lions camps, open to boys and girls ages 4-18, are noncontact and address beginning, intermediate, or advanced skill levels. The four-day Sylvania camp runs through Thursday.
Northview coach Marek Moldawsky said an opportunity presented itself for the camp to be held at Cats Stadium — the Wildcats home field — and they welcomed serving as hosts.
"We just thought it was fantastic for the community," Moldawsky said. "I've been a a Lions fan ever since I was 4 years old."
The Wildcats coach, who will begin his third season at Northview, watched Whitehead work along with many Northview players. Whitehead also took time to speak with the high school players, telling them work hard and individual effort are the only things they can truly control.
He also told them to enjoy every moment playing the game that arguably is the most popular sport in the United States. That's Whitehead's approach every time he puts on his No. 59 Lions jersey.
"I continue to have fun and don't look at playing football as a job," Whitehead said. "It is what it is, but have fun doing it. I bring myself back to my childhood where I enjoyed it, and I still do.
"Being a second-year player in the NFL, I still enjoy myself being out on the field. I'm still a big kid. I go out there and get guys going."
Picked by the Lions in the fifth round (138th overall) of the 2012 NFL draft, Whitehead looks to build upon a rookie season in which he served as a backup linebacker. He totaled only 11 tackles (eight solos) and a forced fumble while playing in 11 of 14 games he suited up for in 2012.
"Personally, I just plan on getting better than last season," said Whitehead, who played in college at Temple. "I had a drop-off during OTAs through preseason camp last year. I just want to do better than last year."
Whitehead said the Lions have the opportunity to make significant strides during the 2013 season after finishing 4-12 a year ago and in last place in the highly competitive NFC North Division.
"Personally, I see one or two plays of the last two minutes of a few games last season as the difference between 4-12 and 12-4," Whitehead said. "We were in a bunch of tough games last year. In 2011, we found, as a team, to pull those games out. In 2012, we didn't quite make out the same.
"But the goal is to get back on track because we have a great team. We've added a great group of guys through free agency, as well as the draft. I think we're going to do just fine this year."
Whitehead, who reports to Lions training camp later this week, displayed plenty of enthusiasm and energy standing before the young, wide-eyed football players.
He even started to sweat under a bright, sunny sky on a perfect morning for a youth football camp.