When was the last time a Browns player (for that matter, ANY player) professed so much exuberance for playing for a team? I can't believe the things Bentley and Jurevicius have been saying. This is exactly what the franchise needed. So much CRAP has happened to this franchise for so many years, it is about time the fans get this kind of positive energy.Cleveland Browns Stadium is going to be a mad house!! I can't wait!Putting Cleveland in the Browns
By Steve King, Staff Writer
March 11, 2006
The word "Cleveland" was solidly put in front of "Browns" this past weekend as free agency opened in whirlwind fashion here.
And in doing so, dreams came true.
Three of the four free agents the Browns signed on those two days - offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley, who comes from the New Orleans Saints, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (NFC champion Seattle Seahawks) and punter Dave Zastudil (AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens) - are from the Greater Cleveland area.
Zastudil, who signed with the Browns on Sunday, was a two-time All-Ohio pick at Bay High School in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village and then went on to Ohio University.
This is actually the third time he and Browns general manager Phil Savage have crossed paths. Savage was working as a scout and assistant coach for the original Browns from 1991-95, during which time Zastudil served as a ball boy for the club.
Savage was then director of college scouting for Baltimore - and T.J. McCreight was a scout - when the Ravens made Zastudil the first of their two fourth-round draft choices in 2002.
McCreight, a native of the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, was playing for former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano at Liberty University and then serving as an assistant coach at Oberlin (Ohio) College when Zastudil and Savage were getting their starts with the original Browns. McCreight is now, of course, the assistant director of player personnel for the Browns.
Bentley was an All-Ohio offensive tackle at Cleveland St. Ignatius High School, being part of two Wildcats teams that played in the Division I state title game, winning once. He then starred at Ohio State before going on to be a Pro Bowler with the Saints.
Jurevicius played at Lake Catholic High in the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, leading the school to two state titles and being named the Division III Player of the Year in Ohio as a senior.
"I'm in a role now where I can help people's dreams come true, and that's what I've been able to do today," Savage said after Jurevicius and Bentley signed on Saturday.
He could have also been saying the same thing for Zastudil.
Nonetheless, never has truer words been spoken. It's hard to imagine any players being more thrilled to join a team than were Bentley and Jurevicius when their introductory press conference was held on Saturday. To say they were ecstatic to be coming back home would be an understatement of immense proportions.
No, to be sure, this one was off the charts.
"I'm glad to be here. I can't lie about that," Jurevicius said. "I can't express enough how exciting it is going to be to play football for this team."
Added Bentley, "This is the best day of my life, next to my sons being born. Every day, I wished this could happen. And now it has happened."
But not before Bentley caught some grief from out-of-the-area friends.
"People said to me, ‘Hey, man, why don't you go to Miami?' " he said. "But I want to be in this city - in this town. This is where my roots are.
"Growing up with my little orange Hutch helmet watching the Kardiac Kids and the Bernie Kosar teams, I want to get this franchise back to those days."
Savage, who was with the original Browns from 1991-95 as both a scout and assistant coach, knows of those days as well.
"Here's a man who appreciates football tradition," Savage said of Bentley. "He goes from St. Ignatius High School to Ohio State to the Cleveland Browns."
Bentley played for two well-known coaches with Cleveland ties, at Ignatius under the legendary Chuck Kyle, and at Ohio State for his final season under Jim Tressel, who grew up and went to college in the back yard of the Browns' training facility, starring at Berea High School and then Baldwin-Wallace College.
Bentley's new position coaches with the Browns have local and Ohio ties as well. Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Jeff Davidson, who was born in Akron, grew up in the Columbus suburb of Westerville and played at Ohio State, and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Uhlenhake, who is a native of Newark, played at Ohio State and coached at Sidney Lehman High School.
So Bentley will feel right at home in addition to being back home.
Jurevicus went to OSU rival Penn State, and then played for nearly a decade in the NFL on both coasts with Seattle and the New York Giants, and in the deep South with Tampa Bay. And as free agency approached this year, still more teams from all parts of the country came onto his radar screen.
But through it all - even through three Super Bowl appearances, including one this past season with the Seahawks - he never lost sight of home.
"All the places I've played have been great, but this is where it all started for me," Jurevicius said. "I had a chance to go other places this year, but I want to play for the Cleveland Browns and wear the orange helmet. I want to play on the shores of Lake Erie in front of family and friends."
Jurevicius talked of growing up and having tailgate parties while watching Browns games in the freezing-cold garages of his friends. He said he ate dog biscuits so he could feel like a member of the Dawg Pound.
Looking taller than his listed height of 6-foot-5, he spoke of the thrill he got when, in his early years in the pros, he was compared to a tall and rangy former Browns wide receiver, Dave Logan.
When he played in Tampa Bay, he recalled his conversations with one of his mentors, former Browns wideout Keenan McCardell, who has often said how much he enjoyed playing here from 1992-95.
"Keenan and I talked about how Cleveland is such a special place," Jurevicius said.
Also while with the Buccaneers, his position coach was Richard Mann, who was wide receivers coach of the Browns from 1985-93.
"He'd bring out those old films and you'd see Brian Brennan, Reggie Langhorne, Webster Slaughter and all those guys," Jurevicius said.
Even as far back as his Lake Catholic days, Jurevicius was surrounded by a Browns theme. His high school coach there, John Gibbons, who is now at another Cleveland area parochial power, Lakewood St. Edward High, is also a Cleveland native who attended the Browns' 1964 NFL Championship Game victory over the Baltimore Colts at Cleveland Stadium. You can bet some of that old-school Browns love rubbed off on Jurevicius.
The signings of Bentley, Jurevicius and Zastudil build upon what Savage and Browns head coach Romeo Crennel did in 2005 in their first year on the job, when they added a lot of local and Ohio flavor to the club in terms of players, personnel people and assistant coaches. The Browns brought in eight rookies with Ohio ties, including quarterback Charlie Frye, who played at Willard (Ohio) High School and the University of Akron, wide receiver/kick returner Joshua Cribbs (Kent State) and defensive lineman Simon Fraser (Upper Arlington, Ohio High School and Ohio State), all of whom made the team and contributed. Fraser, in fact, was a teammate of Bentley at Ohio State in 2001.
Those players were very happy to come to Cleveland, but Bentley and Jurevicius, during their press conference on Saturday, put exclamation points behind their emotions.
"You know, I think of myself as a big, bad football player, but the first time I play on that field in Cleveland in a Browns uniform, I'm sure the tears are going to flow," Jurevicius said.
Bentley isn't waiting for next season. He was already in a Browns uniform Saturday, nearly five months before training camp opens. Standing up from his chair about halfway through his part of the press conference, he said with a smile that was almost as big as he is, "I've been waiting to do this for a long time."
He then peeled off his suit coat to reveal a brown Browns jersey with the number 00 and his last name on the back.
"This is my ultimate dream," Bentley said. "Now I'm a happy man. Now I can die happy. When the Browns called, that's when I knew the dream was becoming reality."
Jurevicius said he was back home in the Cleveland area visiting family a couple of weeks ago when his name was linked to the Browns in rumors about free agency.
"You just kind of hope," he smiled.
Sometimes - not all the time, mind you, but sometimes through nothing more than perseverance, patience and good fortune - hopes and dreams become indelibly linked with opportunity.
And that's what happened last Saturday and Sunday with Joe Jurevicius, Le Charles Bentley, Dave Zastudil and the Browns - er, make that the Cleveland Browns.