MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Florence's return to active duty couldn't have come at a better time

Posted Nov 16, 2012

On Sunday, they’ll honor veterans, and Florence will do his part – as he does on his own every week. As part of his Drayton Florence Foundation, Florence has given away 10 tickets to every Lions home game to families who have a relative in the service.

Drayton  Florence’s participation in the Wounded Warriors Project that benefits families of American military members is more than a symbolic gesture.

Military service runs deep in the veteran cornerback’s family. Three generations  – grandfather Robert Lorenzo Florence, father Drayton Sr. and sister Lakisha – made a career serving in the Army.

For as long as Florence can remember,  the obligations, sacrifices and duty to serving were an integral part of his life.

That included moving from base to base as his father got new orders  – most prominently as a recruitment specialist.

A lot of the lessons Florence learned as a youngster helped him have a long career in the NFL as a cornerback and earn respect for his level of professionalism. He is in his 10th year, and his first as a Lion, and is expected to return to active roster for Sunday’s game against the Packers at Ford Field.

The timing of playing Sunday after being out for seven games with a broken forearm could not be better.

Beginning  with last week’s games, the NFL is saluting the military as part of Veterans Day. Every team is celebrating the national holiday, which was last Monday.  The Lions were on the road against the Minnesota Vikings last week.

On Sunday, they’ll honor veterans, and Florence will do his part – as he does on his own every week.

As part of his Drayton Florence Foundation, Florence has given away 10 tickets to every Lions home game to families who have a relative in the service.

The name Wounded Warriors Project speaks for itself – service members  wounded in combat.

Florence spoke about his participation in the project earlier this week, and his words rang with passion and sincerity – as one would expect from a man from a military family.

“Each and every week, I get tickets for 10 wounded warriors,” Florence said. “This week, since it’s a salute to  service people, I got field passes. They’ll be able to come down on the sidelines and shake hands with a few of the guys.

“It’s just a way for me to give back to those guys who give so much and protect our freedom.”

Florence was signed by the Lions as a free agent before the first game after being released by the Broncos in the final cut. Florence’s  experience, and the fact that he gave them a bigger cornerback at 6 feet and 193 pounds, were reasons the Lions moved quickly to sign him.

Florence played as a reserve in the opening game against the Rams and started in Week 2 at San Francisco.

Florence sustained the injury in the second half. He knew it was serious because of the intense pain, but he finished the game.  Further examinations revealed that the forearm was broken.

It was an example of the dedication he has been known for at every stop in his career – San Diego, Buffalo, Denver and now Detroit.

“He been a good player for a long time,” Coach Jim Schwartz said. “He has toughness. He has size. We’ve missed him these last weight weeks."

Florence was put on injured reserve with a designation that allowed him to return under a new rule put in place this season. Florence has been practicing for two weeks and is eligible to be active Sunday. The Lions have until 4 p.m. Saturday to make a roster move and activate Florence.

“I’m locked and loaded and ready to fly around,” he said.

Florence was not making a military reference, for those sensitive to applying phrases such as “going to war” to sports activities.

When it was suggested that he would be “on active duty” Sunday, Florence made a quick correction.

“What we do on Sunday can’t compare to what those soldiers do each and every day,” Florence said. “To me,  Sunday’s not work. It’s actually the fun part of the week for me. I get to go out and fly around.”

The three generations of Florence military members all served in the army.  Drayton’s grandfather, Robert Lorenzo, served in the Korean War.

Drayton Sr. retired after 20 years as a Sergeant First Class. He was a recruiter for the last 13 years.

Sister Lakisha is a captain, with 18 years in the army and currently stationed in Fort Knox, Ky.

Drayton said he had an interest in oceanography and considered joining the Navy, but he was good as sports and had a promising football career ahead of him. He played at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Tuskegee and was drafted by San Diego on the second round in 2003.

As an army kid, travel was a way of life growing up.  Drayton enjoyed it, and looking back, it had a positive impact on his life – as did the regime of military life. Among the family’s stops were Pontiac and Macdill Air Force base in Tampa.

At Macdill, Florence played with the kids of General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., best known as the commander of the Coalition Forces of the Gulf War of 1991.

‘It was actually fun,” Florence said of the family’s many moves. “I got to travel around to a lot of different cities and be around a lot of different types of people because of what my dad did.

“Every two or three years, you get to pack up and move. It kind of prepped me for the career I have. I had a great experience. Moving around was one of the best things that could have happened to me. You get so many experiences.”

Moving wasn’t the only thing that made an impact.

“You learn discipline and respect for others - doping things the right way, even when people aren’t watching it,” Florence said. “It’s something that’s been ingrained in me. It gave me a good base and a good foundation - showing me how to lead by example, always grinding things out.

“You grow up hearing those things. You don’t understand what they mean until you get older.”