CLEVELAND, OHIO— Wearing a black hoodie and a messy-yet-styled coif, the latest in the litany of Cleveland’s drafted quarterbacks stepped off of the limousine and into the Browns’ building with a smile.
For some players, that smile is forced or merely the product of getting an opportunity— no matter where it may be— in the NFL.
For Cody Kessler, the grin was the direct result of the city in which he is set to begin his NFL career— Cleveland.
Having never been to Cleveland, Kessler visited the Browns in March and upon his arrival, fell in love almost immediately.
“He texted us, said, ‘Hey, (I) just absolutely loved it back here,’” Don Kessler, Cody’s father, said. “He really did.”
There were many reasons that Kessler connected with Cleveland, the first of which was Bakersfield, California, the quarterback’s home town.
Though it’s miles and miles away from the shores of Lake Erie, Bakersfield is a lot like Cleveland… maybe minus the weather.
While Cleveland boasts a population of nearly 390,000 people, Bakersfield is home to 363,000 inhabitants, most of which work with their hands for a living in either agriculture or oil.
It’s a mere two hour drive from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, where Kessler went to college at USC, but the quarterback makes sure to let people know that the inland town, not the coastal oasis, is his home.
“I come from Bakersfield, which it’s not known for a whole lot,” Kessler said. “I’ve worked for everything that I’ve got.”
That last line looks familiar.
It’s not identical to the world-renown words of one of Northeast Ohio's most notable products, but it’s close enough.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned,” LeBron James wrote in his July 2014 letter.
“You work for what you have.”
The same that’s said of Northeast Ohio can be said of Inland California, which is why Kessler wanted the Browns to bring him to a place so similar to home.
“I’ve always kind of kept that blue collar work ethic throughout my whole life, that’s kind of why I was so drawn to Cleveland,” Kessler said. “It’s a hard-working town. I think that’s why it’s a perfect fit for me.”
Cody’s mother, Christie, agreed with her son.
If Cleveland’s a town of hard-working people, Cody will fit right in.
“What you see is what you get,” Christie said of Cody. "He is probably the hardest working athlete that I’ve been around."
Kessler might have been drawn to the city of Cleveland and might’ve fit in perfectly with the people, but it all would’ve meant little if he and the Browns didn’t click.
When he first came to town, Kessler was immediately met by the Browns brass, who wined and dined him at one of Cleveland’s many delicious dining establishments downtown.
The dinner was nice and the atmosphere in the city was attractive, but that’s not what impressed Kessler.
It was what happened in Berea that really got to the quarterback.
“He stayed for two days,” Christie said. “They toured the facility, met with the coaches.
“That was his indication.”
Kessler didn’t throw for the Browns, nor did he even put on his cleats.
Rather, he spent the two days with the Browns in sneakers, merely chatting with Cleveland’s new head coach, Hue Jackson.
Jackson, of course, was a former assistant at USC, who knew of Kessler and his fantastic numbers for the Trojans.
He was as intrigued as any about the quarterback, which is exactly why he brought him in for the visit.
Jackson and Kessler spent the majority of the two-day trip talking at the team’s facility about the game for which each has such an incredible passion.
When it was time for Kessler to go, both the quarterback and the coach wanted to do it again.
Nearly two months later, Kessler, his parents and a handful of their closest friends gathered at the family home in Bakersfield, anxiously anticipating where the quarterback might end up.
For a Kessler party to have so few people is a rare feat, but it’s just what Cody— the low-key kid— wanted.
He didn’t want any distractions or too much excitement. He simply wanted to relax and enjoy the time with his family at home.
Though no one knew where Kessler might end up, as the second round came to a close, Don had his ideas.
“I was thinking towards the end of the third, Cleveland had that one pick and then two in the fourth,” Don said. “I’m thinking, ‘Ok, if they don’t take him here, they might get him in the fourth with the first two picks.’”
Sure enough, as the second round ended and the third round began, the calls came.
The problem, however, was that no one was on the other line.
With Kessler doing his best to ignore the hype, leaving all distractions aside, the calls came through, but no one was able answer.
“It went to voicemail like four times in a row,” Don said.
Finally, Kessler’s agent picked up the phone, but even then, Christie paid the call little mind.
“I thought they would kind of be calling just to talk,” Christie said. “His agent came down and said, ‘Well, actually, let me give you a high five,’ Then I realized…”
Kessler was going to be drafted with the No. 93 overall selection in the third round.
More importantly, he was going to Cleveland.
“He was so excited,” Don said.
“Thrilled,” Christie said. “He was pumped.”
This is Part I of a three-part series featuring Cleveland Browns 2016 draftee, Cody Kessler. Stay tuned for Part II, which will be posted on Tuesday at The OBR.
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.