Ashton Grant's favorite days of his second season of the Bill Willis Coaching Fellowship were the ones where he was in charge.
Grant, who's been with the Browns since June 2020, has had several of those days throughout Year 2 working alongside wide receivers coach/pass game coordinator Chad O'Shea and head coach Kevin Stefanski. After working in the running backs room a season ago, Grant has primarily worked with the wide receivers in 2021, and his experience working with the coaching staff has allowed him to occasionally construct and conduct practice plans, run meetings and fulfill his dream of coaching NFL players.
"In Year 2, I was really about to bunker down and be able to give tips and reminders and help guys figure things out," Grant said. "There have been days when Coach O'Shea would just say, 'You know what, Ashton? It's your show today. I'm just going to sit back and watch.'"
That was the experience Grant craved when he originally started with the Browns in 2020 as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, a separate opportunity each NFL team offers to minority coaches during offseason programs. That fellowship lasted three weeks, and Grant was brought back as part of the Bill Willis Coaching Fellowship, which the Browns created for a rising minority coach with a focus on the offensive side of the ball.
The Browns have been impressed with Grant ever since those first days in Berea, when he originally worked with defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. He then transitioned to working with running backs coach Stump Mitchell during the season, and they brought Grant back in 2021 to coach wide receivers, the position he's most familiar with — he's a former wide receiver from Assumption College and was a quality control coach at the College of the Holy Cross before coming to Cleveland.
Through it all, Grant has been asked to do a myriad of tasks besides occasionally running a practice or meeting.
His top task each week is sketching the individual plays the Browns plan to run on offense each week. The Browns have new plays ready to go for each game and categorize them all depending on the situation — first, second and third down, red zone, two-minute drill and other scenarios.
It's a tedious task for Grant, but it's one he's gotten used to now as he nears the end of his second year with the team.
"It's a lot of attention to detail, and it takes a pretty long time," Grant said. "Coach Stefanski, Van Pelt and O'Shea will sit down and create a list of plays that they might want to bring up to the game. I type that all up, give it back to coach Stefanski, and then he trims it down. Once he trims it down, I have a list of passes we'll be using on that day's game plan."
That's all a step above the work Grant completed in Year 1, where he was mainly a fly on the wall for most of his first season and absorbed every word from Stefanski and the other coaches.
Those observations, however, were not only about how they delivered football instructions to players. Coaching, as Grant has learned even more this season, goes far beyond that and requires coaches to form bonds with their players. He's seen how O'Shea cultivates those relationships — by asking players about current events, their families and anything else not related to football — and has naturally begun forming those relationships, too, as his role elevated more toward that of a true position coach.
"We all talk, and it's a tight-knit group," Grant said about the receivers room. "Those types of conversations might get overlooked, but when you look back on it, it's a reason why we're such a close group. We know about each other outside of football. We really care about what one another has going on."
Grant's second stint with the Browns enabled him to also experience some of the tasks coaches complete in the offseason. He sat down with them in the meetings where they dissected every play from the 2020 season and gained an even greater understanding of why certain plays are called in certain situations and why those plays either failed or succeeded.
He was also with coaches when they interviewed players from the 2021 draft class. WR Anthony Schwartz, a third-round rookie, was one of them, so Grant was able to experience how a player on the Browns' draft radar rises up their board and eventually becomes someone they pick.
"It was just awesome to be a part of that and see how the team is ran through an entire calendar year," Grant said. "I was able to understand the 'why' behind everything."
All of that helped Grant feel prepared whenever O'Shea asked him to conduct a meeting or take the whistle and run their portion of individual drills in practice. Everything about the process has felt natural for Grant, who hasn't concerned himself at any point during the fellowship thinking about where the experience will take him next or what it might mean for his coaching career.
He already knows it's going to take him far and that he'll be able to complete it with the same confidence he's built in Cleveland.
"I just imagine if this was an open internship for coaches all over America, how long that line would be outside that door," Grant said. "Luckily for me, I was able to secure that position, but I'm at a loss of words to describe how amazing it's been for me."