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GWINNETT SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Norcross' Backus savoring retirement

Jeff Backus

Jeff Backus

Jeff Backus is making the most of his retirement.

He’s traveling, going hunting and driving his daughter to school.

The Norcross grad is doing all the things he couldn’t during his 12-year NFL career.

“Honestly, from the time I got to the University of Michigan after I graduated high school until I retired, it was a very regimented schedule,” Backus said. “When you decide to retire, you have your whole life to do whatever you want.

“It took some time to adjust to things around the house, trying to find things to stay busy with and I’ve done that. I couldn’t be happier.”

Backus, who Friday will be inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame, was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2001 after a standout four years for the Wolverines that include a national championship.

He played his entire pro career for Detroit and holds the franchise record for 186 consecutive starts at left tackle.

But after 12 years, it was time. Time for trips to Greece and elk hunting in Montana and taking his 5-year-old Harper to school a few days a week.

“I was 35 when I retired and it felt like when you graduate college and have your whole life in front of you,” Backus said. “I just did what I wanted to do for a while.”

Part of that was an early foray into coaching. Backus was asked by Detroit’s offensive line coach, a good friend, to help with the summer training sessions. He was able to get a feel for what the job is like and also hang out with his former teammates.

“They were trying to groom a couple of younger offensive tackles,” Backus said. “It eased the transition of not playing. I didn’t miss the physical part —my body’s had enough — but I did miss the routine and the camaraderie.

“You retire, and you always wonder how it’s going to go. Pretty smoothly.”

He’s not ready for that life yet, though.

“I enjoyed working with the players,” Backus said. “I’m just not ready to commit to the coaching schedule right now. It’s more intense than for players.

“I need to regroup for a few years and hang out.”

Backus has three kids now and he’s savoring the time he gets to spend with Harper, 5, Griffin, 3, and Bryson, who turns 2 on Thursday.

“I don’t want to say I’m Mr. Mom by any means because my wife does such a great job, but it’s fun being around them,” he said.

They had a little harder time dealing with his retirement. Especially Griffin, his oldest son.

“They didn’t understand why dad was always around the house and sad I didn’t play football anymore,” Backus said. “One day Griffin said, ‘So you don’t play football for work, but you can still play football with me, right?’”

That answer was easy.

“Any time,” Backus said.

Time — and space — is in abundance these days. Backus bought a farm about an hour from his permanent home in Ann Arbor.

“I’m restoring the house,” Backus said, then laughed a little. “I’m not going to be the farmer. I leased out the land. But I bought it as a family retreat.”

His parents, who are originally from that area, also have a summer house in northern Michigan. It was one of the things that made playing for the Wolverines and then being drafted by the Lions so seamless.

Spending his career with the Lions — a rarity to be sure — solidified his ties to the state.

“I’m fortunate to be able to play for one team,” Backus said. “It doesn’t happen a lot. I formed a lot of relationships with the team. I can identify with one team.

“I have friends that bounced around and they don’t have that identity or those relationships. I just wish we would have won a few more ballgames.”

Only in 2011, Backus’ second to last season, did Detroit make the playoffs.

“We were constantly trying to find the right mix of players and coaches,” Backus said. “We started to get it turned around and just couldn’t sustain it.”

Backus was an enduring part of the effort, though, missing just one game in his career.

It’s no wonder he’s among just the fifth class of Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

“It’s a great honor and it’s great for the community,” Backus said.

And it gives Backus a chance to recognize his family for all they’ve done. His father, Bill, will be presenting his ring at Friday night’s ceremony.

“My parents have always been my biggest supporters,” Backus said. “They traveled to all my games. They’re the ones that carpooled every afternoon to practice since I was 6.

“It’s a great way to honor them, too.”