DeShone Kizer knows he's going to have to get used to this.
The rookie quarterback, who is set to make his NFL regular season debut Sunday when he starts for the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, will square off against a veteran quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who won a Super Bowl the same year Kizer turned 10 years old. Roethlisberger grew up in Findlay, about 45 miles away from Kizer's native Toledo, and is considered one of the best NFL stars to ever emerge from Northwest Ohio.
It's not lost on Kizer one bit as he prepares to tackle a physical Pittsburgh defense Sunday. But it's also not lost on him he'll be making a routine of squaring off against quarterbacks and other players he idolized as he powers through his rookie season.
"It is surreal," Kizer said Wednesday. "There is a lot of that that has happened. I step out there in all of the preseason games that I play and I look at guys that I have been watching on TV since I have been young. 'Big Ben' has been playing in this league since I have been in grade school, so that is just a really weird concept, but at the same time, his 11 on offense are going against my 11 and our 11 on offense are going against his defense.
"He is going to become an enemy as soon as that ball gets snapped and we flip the coin. I look forward to being out there."
Kizer will be 15 days between starts when he takes the field Sunday in a moment that's been months in the making.
When Kizer began the preseason, he was the third of three quarterbacks to see the field in an impressive comeback win against the Saints. He was first off the bench in the following game against the Giants before making his starting debut against the Buccaneers, a game that solidified his status as the league's only rookie starting quarterback entering Week 1.
He hasn't seen anything like he'll experience Sunday against the Browns' longtime rival, and he knows it. That's all part of the fun.
"This is a dream come true," Kizer said. "This is my first ever start, my first ever regular season game, so yeah, when that time comes it is going to be fun, but as soon as that coin flips and we are out there with the ball in our hands, I am sure it is just going to go back to the job that it is."
And there will be so much more on the line in a rivalry Kizer has known a thing or two about as he grew up in Toledo. Sunday's matchup will be the 129th installment.
"This rivalry within our division and our conference is one that really shows you what Northern Midwest football is. It is hard nose. It is tough," Kizer said. "The fan bases are the same way. The cities are the same way. We all kind of grew up the same way in the sense that it is blue collar. It is as blue collar as it gets so now to be a part of this and to obviously represent Cleveland and this rivalry, I am looking forward to going out there and representing the city and everything that comes along with this."
Kizer said the trait he respects most about Roethlisberger, who entered the NFL with similar size and stature as Kizer, was his "grit." He called the veteran quarterback "weatherproof," a skill he hopes to emulate as Cleveland goes through a schedule that always features every kind of punch Mother Nature throws.
His quest to be as consistent as Roethlisberger's been through his 13 NFL seasons starts Sunday.
"That is why he has been consistently successful," Kizer said. "Hopefully I can go out there, compete against him and do my best to try to take over that reputation that he has had in this city."