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Players proud of college roots

Posted Nov 30, 2012

Several Browns players will be pulling for their former colleges in conference championship games this weekend.

There has been some friendly bantering back and forth between Cleveland Browns players this week about their colleges playing against each other in conference championship games.

Although the players have been removed from the college game, some for as many as nine years in the case of tight end Benjamin Watson and the University of Georgia, the pride the players have in their alma maters is evident.

Watson and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi are excited about the Georgia Bulldogs competing for the Southeastern Conference Championship against the University of Alabama, the alma mater of Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson.

“It’s just a testament to Mark Richt and the staff down there,” Massaquoi said of Georgia’s second straight trip to the SEC title game. “They just continue to bring in quality guys that feed into what he’s trying to do down there: not only produce good football players, but produce good men.

“I haven’t stopped talking this week. It’s likewise with Ben Watson. It’s home; it’s family down there. I have nothing but love for those guys, nothing but support. I can’t express how much I love those guys and love that university.”

Like Massaquoi to Richt, Richardson was quick to credit Alabama coach Nick Saban for the Crimson Tide’s success.

“He’s just the man,” Richardson said. “It just shows that his game plan, his program is a winning style. He doesn’t take losing for anything. He doesn’t want to lose and that’s one thing that he put into it, not losing.”

When it comes to who is going to win the game, both Massaquoi and Richardson feel strongly that their former teams will claim the championship.

“Of course, it’s Georgia all the way,” Massaquoi said. “I’ll see you in the National Championship. It’s special. Coach Richt, he deserves one. He’s a first-class guy, has a first-class program with first-class players. Those guys work hard down there. Everybody else in the SEC is having fun, so we want to get in on it too.”

Richardson added, “It’s Alabama. It’s tradition and I think they’re going to win. It means a lot because it’s still my class there. This would’ve been my senior year if I stayed and so, the guys that I came in with, they’re still fighting. A lot of those guys, I know personally and I played with them every Saturday, went to battle with those guys every day in practice.”

Massaquoi, Watson and Richardson are not the only Browns who will be paying attention to the college football scoreboard this weekend.

After Alabama and Georgia do battle inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Nebraska and Wisconsin will play for the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Five-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joe Thomas graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2007, and second-year defensive back Eric Hagg was selected by the Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft out of the University of Nebraska.

“I’m really excited,” Thomas said. “I think they’re probably a little upset that they didn’t win some of those close games the last few weeks and be able to outright win their division, but I’d say they’re happy to be in the Big Ten Championship no matter what. I’m excited to watch them play again and have a chance to defend their title for a third year in a row. To be Big Ten champs for a third year in a row would be historic for them and I’m a proud fan.

“I’m very proud to be a Badger. I think the tradition we have among offensive linemen who had great college careers but have also gone on and played a long time in the NFL is something we’re really proud of and I think it’s a great fraternity. It’s a really neat thing to be a part of.”

Hagg said winning “would be sweet” and could set up a postseason matchup with Johnson Bademosi’s Stanford Cardinal.

“I don’t have cable, but every time I go out to eat somewhere, I’m always looking for the games on TV,” Hagg said. “That is super-awesome that they’re going and hopefully, they win. If (Bademosi’s) team wins, we might play them in the Rose Bowl. That would be pretty cool.”

For that Nebraska-Stanford matchup to happen, the Cardinal have to take care of their business in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday night. Standing in the way of a potential Rose Bowl berth are the UCLA Bruins.

“We played them a week ago, and it’s hard to come out and beat a team twice because they know what you do,” Bademosi said. “They know your style of play, but I know those guys work hard over there. From a coach’s perspective, they’re going to have a great plan; for the players, they’re going to execute. I’ve got all the faith they’re going to take care of business.”

Stanford is in the Pac-12 title game one year after losing quarterback Andrew Luck, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

“We’ve got a lot of depth and guys that work hard and coaches that work hard as well,” Bademosi said. “Year-in and year-out, for the past couple years, we’ve been able to produce. That’s a testament to the program.”

Browns long-snapper Christian Yount went to UCLA and is hoping the Pac-12 Championship Game appearance is a sign of things to come for the Bruins.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Yount said. “It’s pretty cool because I still know a lot of the guys that are still playing there. I’m rooting for them on a personal and team basis. I’m going to be sad once I haven’t played with any of the guys on the team, but I’m really looking forward to them getting back to national prominence and where they belong.

“I think they know exactly what they’re going to get, and they’re going to come back and beat Stanford. I think they’re ready to go and they learned their lesson the first time and they won’t be beaten again.”

While Stanford and UCLA battle it out for the Pac-12 Championship, the Kent State Golden Flashes will play Northern Illinois University in the MAC Championship Game at Ford Field in Detroit. It is Kent State’s first-ever appearance in the MAC title game and with a win and some help, the Golden Flashes could find themselves in a BCS Bowl game.

“For them to finally get in the MAC Championship for the first time since ’72, it’s great,” said Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, a Browns defensive lineman and former Kent State player. “It’s a great feeling. I watched every game, and it’s a great feeling to see them doing well."

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