They used to be rivals. Now they're teammates. In fact, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Ohio State's Jashon Cornell sit side by side in the Lions' locker room, a pair of pass rushers aiming to boost Detroit's defense in 2022.
This is year three in the NFL for Cornell, though his first two were wiped out by injuries and a suspension. Hutchinson is barely through his first month of practice, but he's already flashing the traits that compelled the Lions to draft him second overall.
The same traits he unleashed on the Buckeyes last season to help Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time in 10 years after a pair of humbling defeats in 2018 and 2019, neither of which Cornell has forgotten.
"I love Aidan, even though he’s a Michigan guy," Cornell said with a laugh after the Lions' second practice of minicamp Wednesday. "I told him from day one, 'You’ve never beaten me,' so I have no problems with him. Like, 'You never beat me at home or away, so we’re good over here.'"
Hutchinson and Cornell are also represented by the same agency, so they go back a bit. Everything Cornell thought he knew about Hutchinson has been confirmed in their short time together in Detroit, starting during OTA's last month.
"He’s a great player, I can say it. He’s showed me his ability," said Cornell. "You gotta prove to me first how good you are as a pass rusher and by the second or third practice, I was like, alright, you’re legit. He’s got it. He can pass rush from the inside, from the outside. I was like, you’re a legit player now. He’s showing that he’s great for the NFL and I think Aidan’s a great piece for our defensive line."
On top of his talent, Hutchinson has impressed Cornell with his diligence and hunger to learn. He works as hard off the field as he does on it, a natural fit in a locker room where Cornell said everyone "wants to showcase what Detroit really is."
"He’s on his stuff, he’s on his stuff 24/7," said Cornell. "As a rookie you come in and you get the whole playbook thrown at you and he’s showing that he’s ready and he’s prepared. His locker is right next to mine and he’s fit in with the group, he’s fit in with the guys. That’s what we want here, guys who want to come into work every single day and they love football."
Cornell, a seventh-round pick of the Lions in 2020, is looking to jumpstart his NFL career this season. He missed all of his rookie season after rupturing his Achilles in training camp, then opened last season serving a three-game suspension for a substance abuse violation and ended the season on the reserve/non-football illness list. He's appeared in just one game for the Lions.
He plans to change that in 2022.
"The biggest thing for me is to finally show people my ability," Cornell said. "I feel like I’ve been down and out since I got in the league and this is a chance for me to actually show who I am as a player. I did all the stuff at Ohio State, and now people are (asking), what is he going to do after the injury? So this is an opportunity for me to showcase the ability that I have as a pass rusher and a run stopper in the NFL."