Browns Give Back to Cleveland Youth

By Bradford William Davis

Olamide “Larry” Ogunjobi is listed at a height of 6’3” and weight of 304 pounds, yet he can complete a 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds and has a 32-inch vertical leap. His measurement, athleticism, and occupation as a defensive lineman in the NFL place him far outside the bounds of the average man. Yet, one of the main goals he set for the children gathered alongside him as he ran football drills at a charity event held at the Cleveland Browns’ practice facility was that they see him as just a “regular guy.”

Ogunjobi knew that might be a tough task for the kids — especially since he towered over the elementary and middle schoolers. But, in his mind, having the kids join him for a day on the field was an essential part of breaking down any notions about his elevated status.

“They see us with our helmets on, playing on TV,” said Ogunjobi. “But when they see us giving back, showing them life skills — that shows us that we’re regular people. I heard one kid say, ‘Wow I got to touch a football player? But I don’t want them to see me like I’m untouchable. I put my pants on same as anybody else.”

The Browns are the subjects of this season’s Hard Knocks, a yearly docu-series chronicling an NFL team during their training camp. To celebrate the premiere episode, the Browns and HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility team hosted a mini-camp for children of local first responders and kids enrolled in the city of Cleveland’s recreational programs. Players from the team, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor and linebacker Christian Kirksey, taught the attendees how to pass, tackle, and run like the pros.

Ogunjobi emphasized the importance of giving maximum effort to every drill. He believes hard work is a value the kids can take with them, regardless of their career. “I want them to see that if they want to be in a doctor's office or a classroom as a teacher, whatever — they can be it,” he told HBO. Ogunjobi made sure the kids understood that playing football in the NFL wasn’t any more special than succeeding in the thing they wanted to do.

Kirksey echoed Ogunjobi’s hope that the camp would help reinforce positive character in each child that played with him. “Knowing responsibility, how to treat people — that’s what matters,” said Kirksey. “Whether you're an NFL player or NBA player, firefighter, police officer, teacher — you gotta be kind to people and treat people the way they want to be treated.”

The kids in attendance received Hard Knocks posters, shoestring bags decorated with the Hard Knocks logo, and Browns jerseys. Yet, as the end of the camp neared, one boy carrying his spoils from the event confidently made his way towards the defensive tackle to ask if he could also take home his new friend’s charm bracelet. Pointing to his wrist, Ogunjobi held back chuckles. “You mean this one?” he asked. “Nah, I can’t let you have that.”

After shaking hands, they both went their separate ways, but with one difference from when the practice started. The kid may not have left with any jewelry, but he carried a quiet assuredness. He was one of the guys.