LOS ANGELES -- The crow’s feet are a dead giveaway.
They creep up when a smile flashes on Brandon Weeden’s face, and looking around at all these kids again, the new Cleveland Browns quarterback can’t help but grin.
This is just like freshman orientation back at Oklahoma State, he says, remembering when he showed up in Stillwater, Okla., a half-decade older than most of his fellow freshmen. Now he’s 28 and the oldest first-round selection in NFL history after being selected by the Browns with the No. 22 overall pick in April’s draft.
At the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event, surrounded by fellow draft picks, he was once again surrounded by peers younger than him. He went to a video game premiere one night. A celebrity flag football game the next. Another party the following night.
This is the life of a highly coveted NFL rookie. Except in Weeden’s case, it has come five years late.
But he maintains those five years -- spent playing (and struggling) in professional baseball -- are why he’s here in the first place.
“There’s going to be a transition period, but at the same time, I feel like I’m prepared because of what I’ve been through,” Weeden said. “I’m not going to say I’m going to go out there and play better because I’m 28 years old; that’s not it. It’s such a transition to that level. But what I went through with baseball … and overcoming it, that really helps me prepare.”
Weeden’s professional baseball career started off well. Selected by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 2002 MLB draft out of Santa Fe High in Edmond, Okla., Weeden sported an ERA below 3.00 in each of his first two professional seasons. But shoulder trouble and ineffectiveness plagued him the next three years, and he was eventually released by the Kansas City Royals' organization on the last day of spring training in 2007.
“Going into professional baseball, very rarely did I struggle,” Weeden said. “Everyone who gets drafted, you’ve never gone through the adversity that you’ll go through playing a professional sport. It’s hard to deal with. It really is. You lose a lot of sleep over it. You’re used to being so successful. And that’s what I think motivates a lot of guys with whatever they do next -- businessmen or whatever -- and it really makes you appreciate what you’re doing. No one likes being told they’re not good enough, and that’s basically what happens when you’re cut.”
He didn’t wallow for long. Two days after being released from professional baseball, he heard from Oklahoma State. He was soon on a plane to Stillwater, ready to follow a new dream on a new field.
The timing was perfect, because he wasn't ready to give up competition.
“I would’ve had to throw beer league softball or something -- just something to compete,” Weeden said. “Flag football, whatever. I would’ve had to do something. You can compete in the business world, but as a player, you remember your last game. It would’ve been a challenge. My brother (former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Ty Weeden) is going through it now, and I don’t know he handles it.”
After a few years familiarizing himself again with football and school, Weeden burst onto the national scene in 2010, breaking numerous Oklahoma State passing records and leading the Cowboys to an 11-2 record. He was even better as a senior, setting school records with 4,727 passing yards and 37 touchdowns, including 399 yards and three touchdowns -- all to Justin Blackmon -- in a 2012 Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford and eventual No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck.
Blackmon’s relationship with Weeden is a big reason both were so successful in college. Blackmon, who was selected No. 5 overall by Jacksonville, remembers feeling an instant kinship with the elder statesman.
“I didn’t even know he was 25,” Blackmon said of first meeting Weeden. “I went through my whole first year thinking he was our age. He was a class above me -- he was a redshirt freshman when I was a freshman -- and I had no idea. I didn’t even know until after he was married. He had his wedding my second year and I was like, ‘Why are you getting married, man?’ He’s like, ‘Dude, I’m 25 years old, I don’t have much longer.’”
Now, Weeden feels like he has all the time in the world. He’s relaxed and ready to lead the Browns.
Weeden sold his age as a positive to NFL teams, pitching himself as a mature, ready-for-the-pro-game quarterback.
Obviously, the Browns liked what they saw.
“Playing professional baseball was the dream since I was 3 years old, and I was able to achieve it, even though it didn’t work out exactly the way I’d have wanted it,” Weeden said. “But that being said, coming out here and getting dream No. 2 -- getting into the NFL and going back to college -- I’m very fortunate.
"There are not many guys who’ve done it, who’ve gotten the chance to fulfill two dreams.”
Jon Gold is a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News and a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. You can find him on Twitter at @TheCoolSub or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.