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If John Cominsky can navigate the trenches this year as well as his work-life balance, the latest chapter of the Barberton native's NFL career should be a successful one with the Detroit Lions.
Cominsky's wife, Brittany, gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Emersyn, nearly four months ago.
Instead of leaving his spouse and baby at home while he fought for a spot on the Lions' 53-man roster, Cominsky lived with them at the team hotel throughout training camp. The arrangement was permitted by Lions coach Dan Campbell because Cominsky is married, and it gave the defensive end daily opportunities to bond with his newborn despite the relentless marathon nature of the camp held at team headquarters in Allen Park, Michigan.
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Last week, Cominsky learned he had earned a job with the Lions, a taste of redemption after the Atlanta Falcons cut him May 26.
“It's one of my greatest accomplishments, I thought,” Cominsky said Monday during a phone interview with the Beacon Journal. “You come in bottom of the barrel, and you have to earn your way. I've done it before, but things are different with the baby, and life's different and the environment's different. I gave it everything I had. It was the most exhausting five weeks in every way possible that it could've been.”
Other parents can relate to losing sleep while caring for an infant. However, few know what it's like to play professional football amid such a dramatic, life-changing transition. Many players have done it, yet experiencing the process in a standard hotel room is not as common.
“It was a tight space. You've only got four walls, and when baby's up, I'm up,” Cominsky said. “My wife did a really good job taking as much off of me as she could. It was good, but with that tight space, once that baby's up, it's hard to keep that baby quiet.
“It had its challenges for sure, but it was good. It helped teach my wife and I patience and to be grateful for little things when you're not spoiled with a big house and a separate room for the baby. It was a great learning experience. It was definitely difficult, but it was awesome coming home from practice and having my wife and my daughter there.”
In Cominsky's mind, bringing his family to camp was “a no-brainer” because “too often you hear guys are just watching their kids grow up on FaceTime.” A camera crew visited Cominsky's hotel room while filming “Hard Knocks,” HBO's hit documentary series.
“It's just important for me, especially to come home and be able to decompress and talk with my wife and spend time with my daughter,” said Cominsky, who had eight tackles and a sack in the preseason. “She's going to be smiling. She doesn't care how hard the day was. She's still herself. It was awesome for me, even though it was difficult when she's waking up at 4 and 5 in the morning when I've got practice the next day.”
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Becoming a starter with the Detroit Lions is on John Cominsky's agenda
The Lions will open the 2022 season Sunday by hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, and Cominsky's objectives include becoming a contributor of consequence with his new team. He'll be in the final season of his four-year rookie contract and scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March.
“Earn a starting job and make a lot of plays, make game-changing plays and that's really it — excel,” he said of his goals. “Be better than I was last year. Be better than the week before.
“I definitely want to get to the point where I'm playing significant [snaps] and I'm creating opportunities to change the pace of the game and affect the game for our good and our benefit.”
Cominsky, who will turn 27 on Nov. 22, never became a full-time starter with the Falcons, who drafted him in the fourth round (No. 135 overall) out of Division II University of Charleston in 2019. He started once in 27 regular-season appearances and had 41 tackles, 1½ sacks, five quarterback hits, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery in three seasons with the Falcons.
Last season, Cominsky was inactive for 13 of the Falcons' 17 games. A coaching change and switch in defensive schemes left him largely out of place in a three-man front.
“For a team to let me go in Atlanta, I know it's never personal,” Cominsky said. “It's kind of fun to live that life — be released and go earn your respect somewhere else. All of it was motivating. I have my daughter and my wife [to play for]. But I really think in short windows of time. I was just excited for the opportunity to earn some respect in the new building where guys don't know me and make this team.”
Eight teams, including the Cleveland Browns, tried to claim John Cominsky off waivers
If it wasn't in Detroit, Cominsky would have received a shot to bounce back somewhere else in the NFL. A quarter of the league's 32 franchises saw enough potential in Cominsky to attempt to acquire him after the Falcons waived him.
Eight teams — the Lions, Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Washington Commanders, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings — submitted a waiver claim for Cominsky, agent Cliff Brady said. The Lions were awarded the player because of their position in the waiver wire priority order. Brady explained he has represented NFL players for 35 years, and the most waiver claims one of his clients had previously garnered was six.
“We like this player, which is one of the reasons we did put [a waiver claim in for him],” Campbell told Lions reporters last month. “The Commish, man. Works his rear off, and he’s smart, and he does have versatility. He can play the big end. He can play some three-technique in rush downs.
“He kind of meets our criteria. He’s everything we’re about because he goes to work. He’s a lunch-pail guy, and he’s all out, all the time. He’s very coachable.”
Cominsky, 6-foot-5 and listed as 285 pounds, is confident he's an ideal match for a Lions defense coordinated by Aaron Glenn, a former assistant secondary coach with the Browns.
“Schematically, it fits my style more,” Cominsky said. “It allows me to run off the ball. There's not much thinking involved. I get to jump off the ball and then react to play versus reacting first and then attacking. There's two defenses in the league. You're either attacking and then reacting or you're reacting and then attacking. For me to be able to attack first, it just fits my style better, and it gets me on my toes and moving forward. It fits better to be in an attack front. So I'm excited to be here and have the freedom to do that and jump off the ball.”
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In a perfect scenario for Cominsky, he'll be harassing quarterbacks with fellow defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the rookie No. 2 overall pick from the University of Michigan.
“He came in and just had his head down, a real humble guy, a hard worker and I've told him before it's cool to be part of his rookie season and to get to see his first go at it 'cause I know he's going to be a legendary player,” Cominsky said. “To get to see the very front of it, it's really cool to experience that with him, and any advice I can give him, it's just exciting. It pushes all of us. Having a guy like that on the D-line, it just pushed everybody to be better.”
John Cominsky feels fortunate to have job with Detroit Lions, whose home games are a few hours away from his hometown of Barberton
Cominsky realizes he has plenty of people in his hometown cheering for him, and he loves representing Barberton. His Twitter profile is adorned with a photograph of a flag that reads “John Cominsky NFL Player” and hangs outside Rudy Sharkey Stadium, where he played high school football for the Magics.
“I know a lot of young kids in Barberton, and we have a foundation that focuses on the kids,” Cominsky said. “I take a lot of pride in those kids. To be the face of Barberton and a face of leadership around those kids, it means the world to me.
“I take a lot of pride in being that leader, being in that role-model position for those kids. My heart's completely in Barberton.”
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In June, Cominsky held another free youth football camp at his alma mater. The Cominsky Family Foundation, NFL Players Association and local companies were involved.
“It's cool to reach out and businesses reply and people want to volunteer,” Cominsky said. “For me to be blessed enough to be in the position to manage that and coordinate it, it's awesome. That camp is one of my favorite things that I do. I plan on doing some more stuff, but that football camp was an opportunity I had right away, so we got it going right after my rookie year.
“It's just another thing I hang my hat on, and I strive to make it better every year. Those kids and the parents and everybody always tell me how great it was and how much their kids loved it. It's not just me. My name's on the camp. But when I reach out, it's not too hard to get businesses or anybody to help out and show out and volunteer for a day. It's really exciting, and it's a blessing to be able to be at the front of it.”
For Cominsky, one of the perks of being in Detroit is its close proximity to Northeast Ohio. He envisions friends and family driving a few hours from Barberton to attend Lions games at Ford Field this year.
“When I got released from Atlanta, the things we were thinking about was location and that attack-front defense,” he said. “Those were the two most important things, and I got them both.”
With the arrival of baby Emersyn, he also has a little Lions fan in his corner.
“It's been the best thing that's ever happened to me,” Cominsky said of becoming a dad.
Even better than rebounding to secure a gig with another NFL team.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Barberton's John Cominsky juggles dad duty with making Lions' roster