BEREA, OHIO— Sitting at the far end of the dais, Cody Kessler told the room full of reporters at the Browns facility that his hometown of Bakersfield, California wasn’t known for much.
Soon, however, Bakersfield could have a claim to fame.
“Our whole town has followed Cody and Derek Carr,” Kessler's mother, Christie, said. “Cody has trained with David (Carr) since he’s been little.”
Derek Carr was born in Fresno, California— nearly two hours north of Bakersfield— and moved to Sugar Land, Texas when David was drafted by the Houston Texans with the first overall selection in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Just before Derek’s senior year, however, the Carr family moved back to California, where the quarterback was to spend the season at Bakersfield Christian High School.
It was amidst that senior year that the Carr’s and the Kessler’s became close.
Kessler, though three years Carr’s junior, was a rising star in the area as Derek established himself as one of the nation’s top passers.
He caught the attention of the Carr’s and started working at Carr Elite— a football-based camp founded by Roger, Derek and David Carr to develop young athletes.
With David still upon his NFL journey, Derek and Kessler bonded before the Fresno St. signee started school in the city of his birth.
Little did they know a couple of years later that they would meet again, not too far from home.
After redshirting in 2011 and playing minimally in 2012, Cody Kessler was set to be the backup quarterback for USC heading into the 2013 season… or so it seemed.
Max Wittek, the third-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2011 according to Rivals.com, was set to be the Trojans’ starter after backing up Matt Barkley in 2012.
Almost unexpectedly, coach Lane Kiffin opened up a competition for the quarterback position and Kessler busted down the door.
“I kind of put my head down, kept my mouth shut and worked as hard as could,” Kessler said. “I ended up becoming a three-year starter when I wasn’t supposed to.”
Coming into the season unranked, Kessler and the Trojans got off to a 4-3 start, losing to Washington State, Arizona State and Notre Dame.
Though he was a first-year starter, the start was unacceptable by Trojans’ standards.
That’s when one of the greatest to ever play in Los Angeles got in his face.
“I remember (Pro Football Hall of Fame RB) Marcus Allen was a guy that came in and kind of looked me in the face and said, ‘I don’t care if you’re a sophomore or what year you are. This is your team. You’re the leader, and you’ve got to be a captain,’” Kessler said. “I took that and kind of ran with it.”
Following that meeting, Kessler led USC to a 5-1 record and finished with 2,968 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, earning his spot as USC’s starter for the next two seasons.
“I think for the cards we were dealt, especially the team I was given, there are a lot of great guys that really helped me,” Kessler said. “We really worked hard at USC and kind of kept the program above and kept working hard for them to hopefully have a great future.”
When Kessler’s first regular season as the Trojans’ starter came to a close, the first postseason game in which he would play for USC was announced.
Though the Trojans were unranked and with four losses, they were matched with a one-loss opponent that ranked No. 20 in the country.
Of course, that team was the Fresno State Bulldogs, quarterbacked by none other than Kessler’s friend Derek, who was to play in his final collegiate game before heading to the NFL.
With Kessler playing in his first postseason contest and Derek looking to put the cherry on top of a terrific collegiate career, it seemed as though the Bulldogs were not to be beaten.
Instead, the tables were turned.
The sophomore threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns, while the senior completed 29 passes for just 219 yards and two touchdowns.
USC trounced Fresno State, 45-20.
The memories from the game marked a kind of changing of the guard, from one Bakersfield product to another.
“I got a great picture of those two coming together, hugging each other, big smiles on their face,” Don said. “Derek told him, ‘Great job. Congratulations!’”
Since that day, Derek, David and Kessler have kept in contact and have even trained together on certain occasions.
Even their fathers, Roger and Don, remain close.
“Roger’s always texting me, ‘Hey, great job. Cody did great and he’s going to go far,’” Don said. “Just a super, super nice man. Absolutely great.”
In Don’s estimation, Derek doesn’t fall far from the tree and doesn’t differ much from his own son.
“Derek’s just a great kid, just a very humble kid just like Cody,” Don said. “You approach (football) and you know it can be taken away at any given day.”
Kessler and Carr may have come from similar beginnings in the humble town of Bakersfield, but their connection to inland California has little affect on their confidence.
Just as Carr felt he could prove that a small-school kid could get it done the NFL, Kessler believes that he— the underdog at USC— can come out on top.
“I’m going to do anything I can to have the best opportunity I can because I do believe that I can play in this league,” Kessler said. “I’m excited for the opportunities and the challenges that lie ahead.”
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.