BEREA, Ohio – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all levels of football, from the NFL to little league and everywhere in between. The Cleveland Browns are working to help those in the in-between.
Over the next month, the Browns will be hosting a platform for high school prospects hoping to play college football at the Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior-college levels to upload their footage participating in drills like the 40-yard dash or bench press, which will then be made available to coaches and recruiters via an online portal.
“It’ll just give (the athletes) an opportunity to have their film viewed by college coaches, which is paramount this year, due to the dead period,” said Darrell Taylor, the Browns’ coordinator of youth football.
Last month, the NCAA announced it was extending the moratorium on in-person recruiting through the end of May, making it difficult for under-recruited or under-the-radar prospects from getting noticed, especially from lower-level college football programs, which have their own recruiting limitations and resources.
John Carroll, a Division III program in the Cleveland area, has consistently relied on the Browns in the past to help mine talent in the area. Until the pandemic, the Browns annually hosted a combine in their fieldhouse for more than 200 area athletes, where college personnel and coaches could scout them in person. John Carroll defensive coordinator Jeff Long Sr. estimates that the Blue Streaks sign roughly a half-dozen players every year who participate in the Browns combine. With the event going virtual this time, Long is hopeful that his program will be connected to even more perspective recruits, who would otherwise live too far away to participate.
“If we can find a further reach, that will be amazing,” said Long, whose Blue Streaks will open its season Friday against Baldwin-Wallace, which is located less than a mile from the Browns training facility in Berea. “This is going to be a real part of the evaluation process, that maybe we weren’t able to see that young man in a normal year, if we didn’t have the budget or the opportunity to get out there in person. Now we have that opportunity. … that’s exciting for us and we’re excited to see how it plays out.”
Justin Todd, head coach the last five years of Wadsworth City located in Northeast Ohio, sees a unique benefit for the athletes, as well.
“It’s really special when an NFL organization and their youth program takes that time to adapt and make the best program possible to connect those young athletes to their respective colleges in the area,” he said. “Every opportunity to get them in front of collegiate coaches during this unprecedented time. … we can’t be more thrilled about it.”
The Browns will be helping the athletes in other ways, too. Strength coach Josh Christovich, defensive backs assistant Brandon Lynch and tight ends coach Drew Petzing will all be providing offer tips and encouragement for all athletes via video vignettes; Petzing himself was a Division III football player for Middlebury College.
The Browns, who will be providing everything on the players from transcripts to background on their careers, are anticipating that dozens of Division II, III, NAIA, and juco schools from Ohio, New York, Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky will be utilizing to the portal to help fill in the gaps in recruiting.
“Hopefully this gives these kids the opportunity,” Taylor said, “to play collegiately.”