Lions' Jeff Okudah reflects on his late mother after NFL draft

Jeff Okudah had a plan for late Thursday night. After everything had calmed down and the reality of the Detroit Lions selecting him with the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft -- tying him with Shawn Springs in 1997 as the highest cornerback taken in the modern draft era -- had settled in. After his family had gotten a bit quieter and he could compartmentalize his thoughts.

It was then, Okudah said, that he planned on having a long conversation with his late mother, Marie, who died of lymphoma in 2017 days after Okudah left for Ohio State.

"She would've been in tears," Okudah said Thursday night. "Honestly, she didn't really understand football like that just being born in Nigeria, but she knew what made me happy. So I think just her seeing me smile, me being really excited, I think that it would just bring her to tears.

"She saw all the hard work. It was a moment that I really envisioned us embracing each other in. I'm looking forward to getting to be by myself tonight and just have a talk with her, a long talk with her."

Okudah has long played for his mother, even writing a letter to his mom for The Players Tribune when he decided to declare for the draft in January. The letter opened up about everything he had been through since she died that led him to the moment of his draft declaration -- where he wrote it "makes it hard not to miss you a little extra" because she was still around when he left high school for college.

Now, she's with him in his memories and in his heart. Okudah had initially planned on spending draft night in Las Vegas as a draft attendee, but the COVID-19 pandemic altered his plans and instead put him at his aunt's house in suburban Dallas, where he was surrounded by his aunt, uncle, sister, two cousins and his trainer.

It created a different type of moment for him: "This will be a moment I never forget."

Okudah now goes to Detroit, where he's expected to step in right away as a potential starter opposite Desmond Trufant, who signed with the Lions in free agency in March. He said he plans on following Trufant around to learn as much as he can -- adding to what he's already done in reaching out to Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay to learn about their processes and what they did right and wrong early in their careers.

It's all part of Okudah's plan to be able to play early after being the first corner in 23 years to go in the Top 3 -- a moment that surely would have made his mom proud.

"It's a crazy feeling being drafted that high," Okudah said. "Obviously the Detroit Lions think a lot about me, and I think it's up to me to return that and give them all that I have and go to work every single day with my teammates and be the best player that I can be."