CLEVELAND, OHIO— Back in Bakersfield, long before Cleveland came calling to draft him, Cody Kessler taped a newspaper clipping to the wall in his bedroom.
Generally, Kessler didn’t read much of what was written about him.
He didn’t particularly care about the press nor to the pressure associated with his potential as a two-sport starter at Centennial High School.
“He came in as a freshman and was going to start, first-year starting for basketball and for football,” Kessler's mother, Christie, said. “One reporter kind of wrote, ‘Hey, can he do this?’”
The question didn’t necessarily insult the freshman, but it certainly drove him to prove that he could, in fact, “do” whatever "this" was.
“He was like, ‘That’s going to drive me,’” Christie said. “He likes that. He loves it.”
Over the four years after that article was published, he answered any question that lingered and did so with ease.
Kessler is the son of a pair of two-sport athletes.
Christie coached both basketball and volleyball, while Kessler's father, Don, coached football and baseball at Centennial for over 30 years.
“He lived on the field with us,” Christie said.
Growing up, Cody took a sport from each parent, but it looked for a while as if he’d star on the court, as opposed to the turf.
“He had his first dunk in junior high school,” Don said. “He could play.”
A basketball-first kid that spent a good amount of time with Christie on the court, Kessler fell in love with the point guard position.
As a point guard, Kessler had control of the game. He was the decision-maker— the player with the most responsibility on his shoulders.
Eventually, having focused on the hardwood for so long, Kessler discovered the pigskin.
He started playing football in fifth grade and, initially, was a receiver.
It wasn’t long until he figured out, however, that he’d rather throw the passes than catch them.
Playing quarterback, after all, was a lot like being the point guard of the football field.
“He fell in love with the phenomenon of playing quarterback,” Christie said. “He likes to have the ball in his hands.”
Though the feel of the ball upon his fingers was a big part of Kessler’s love for both the quarterback and point guard positions, that sensation wasn’t the only thing that he loved about each.
“He’s always liked to make the last shot or make the last play,” Christie said. “He likes the pressure.”
Pressure is a natural product of the quarterback position, but in Cleveland, that pressure seems to be taken to the next level.
A town starved for football success, Cleveland has yearned for a productive passer since the days of a curly-haired kid from Youngstown took the city by storm.
Since the days of Bernie Kosar, Cleveland has endured nearly 20 years of failure from arguably the most important position in sports, with not even so much as a glimmer of hope shining from each successive signal caller.
Kessler didn’t grow up a Browns fan and didn’t live close enough to where he can truly understand what the team has endured under center.
While he doesn't know the history first-hand, Kessler does feel that being a quarterback in Cleveland can be likened to his previous position in Los Angeles.
“It kind of relates back to being at USC,” Kessler said. “I think what happened at USC prepared me for that and with different things that are thrown my way.”
Los Angeles and Cleveland don’t compare all that well… period.
One is located under the sunny sky of California, while the other is often pounded by freezing precipitation and cloudy conditions.
One is known to be the home of rock-and-rollers icons and the other is home to rock-and-roll bygones.
Amongst the only ways in which Cleveland and Los Angeles can be seen as similar is through the eyes of a quarterback.
As a quarterback for the Browns, all eyes and all hopes are on you to turn the fortunes of the franchise to their pre-displacement direction.
As a quarterback for USC — prior to the relocation of the Rams— you are the most scrutinized football player in town, tasked with keeping the Trojans towards the top of the conference and of college football as a whole.
Kessler is one of the few to have the opportunity to experience both and for someone who loves pressure-filled moments, it’s an opportunity that he relishes.
“I love playing in college games where the fans were so into it, and the city of Cleveland, apparently, has that,” Kessler said. “I’m excited to get the first taste of it.”
Having already proven that he could successfully start for both the football and basketball teams at Centennial over two seasons, Kessler was set to begin what was to be a special junior season.
Don and Christie didn’t know exactly what was to come, but they would be there to watch it.
The calendar year started with Kessler averaging over 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on the court, which earned him the title of “All Area Player of the Year.”
As the summer came to a close and the fall of his senior year began, Kessler took to the turf, completed 69.7% of his passes for 2,831 yards and 36 touchdowns and earned “All Area Player of the Year” award in football as well.
It was the first time that a single athlete had won both awards, but if Kessler hadn't graduated early from high school, Don believes he could've accomplished even more.
“He would’ve done it the following year,” Don said, “but he left early.”
As he left for USC as the only athlete to ever earn the “All Area Player of the Year” award in two sports, that same newspaper clipping— the one that was questioned him four years earlier— remained on his wall.
This is Part II of a three-part series featuring Cleveland Browns 2016 draftee, Cody Kessler. Stay tuned for Part III, which will be posted on Thursday at The OBR.
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.null