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Scoggins: Why Chanhassen's Ragnow is the 'stud' of the Detroit Lions' rise

Frank Ragnow's body was battered, bruised and being held together by duct tape. Lined up across from him was 350-pound nose tackle Vita Vea, a load to handle even for a healthy NFL center.

The Detroit Lions had the ball fourth-and-goal from the 1, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-10 late in the third quarter of the divisional playoffs last week.

The Lions put their money on Ragnow, pride of Chanhassen High School.

"Frank's a stud," coach Dan Campbell said after the game. "He's not going to miss it."

Ragnow anchored himself and shifted Vea just enough to allow Craig Reynolds to run up the gut for a touchdown that helped send the Lions into Sunday's NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.

In that critical moment, Detroit trusted a player who serves as the heartbeat of a group that is no longer mocked but instead celebrated for its grit.

"I wasn't even thinking about my body," Ragnow shared in a phone call from Lions headquarters this week. "You've just got to execute the play-call. Just get your job done."

Is there a slogan more apropos for these Detroit Lions, who find themselves one win away from the Super Bowl? Or for their locker room leader, a walking, talking definition of toughness?

Ragnow went into that playoff game dealing with various injuries. The list expanded in the first half when he injured his knee and ankle. He didn't miss a single play.

Ragnow's pain tolerance became the stuff of lore in 2020 when he quickly returned to action after suffering a fractured throat in a game.

Most players appear on the injury report with one ailing body part. Ragnow's designation on the report this week read: ankle/toe/knee/back.

No chance he's missing Sunday's game against the 49ers, though.

"I take a lot of pride in being out there with the guys, being out there for the city," Ragnow said. "They signed me to this extension [$42 million guaranteed] a few years ago and I want to be fulfilling that. I don't want to be that guy who gets paid and [isn't playing]. I want to be out there finding a way to win."

That's the "why" part. The "how" part is deeply personal too: His mom, Marty, and his dad, Jon, who died of a heart attack in 2016.

"My dad was as tough as it gets," the 27-year-old center said. "Someone I look up to. My hero. My mom, she's as tough as it gets too. Ever since my dad passed, she's been pretty dang inspiring. She's been an inspiration and the glue that holds our family together."

Marty watched Sunday's playoff game at Ford Field with a host of her son's Chanhassen friends, his Arkansas Razorbacks college buddies and family members. She saw him perform like the two-time All-Pro center that he is, and she knows who helped her son finish strong.

"That's his father," Marty said. "He had a big hand in getting Frank through that game."

Mom noticed something else from her son after the game.

"The happiness takes over a little bit of the pain," she said.

Nobody in the locker room appreciates this moment more than Ragnow. The Lions had losing records in his first four NFL seasons, starting in 2018, including a pair of three-win seasons. They finished last in the division all four seasons.

The euphoria that has swept through Detroit during this season and playoff run is a sweet reward.

"To be playing meaningful football in January is pretty special," Ragnow said. "It's been a ride I'm really trying to cherish."

Ragnow and his dad bonded over the outdoors, spending many joyful days hunting and fishing. After Jon's death, Frank used their shared passion in his grieving process, which spurred an idea for a foundation that he started two years ago. Ragnow helps kids who have lost parents navigate their grief by exposing them to the outdoors. Last month, his Lions teammates chose Ragnow as the organization's Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his community involvement.

"When you lose a parent, it's hard," he said. "I think going into the outdoors, whether it's fishing, hunting, hiking — it helped me. At worst, you're giving a kid a good day."

The foundation's work is a tribute to his dad. So is the toughness and tenacity that his son shows on the field. And there's something else, too: Frank and his wife, Lucy, welcomed their first child in August — a son they named Jon.