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Browns visit Ginn Academy with messages of hope and education

When his days of playing football are over, Xavier Cooper wants to become a principal.

That's something Cleveland's second-year defensive lineman shared with students at the Ginn Academy on Tuesday when the Browns visited the high school as ambassadors of education behind the coordinated efforts of the Browns' First and Ten initiative, the Cleveland Browns Foundation and Republic Services.

And with Earth Day approaching next week, Cooper, linebacker Demario Davis, defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and running back Duke Johnson helped paint and plant flower pots, make bird feeders from recycled materials and mentor the students in what was a high-energy afternoon filled with wide smiles, selfies and service.

But perhaps most of all, Cooper wanted them to know that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel and always someone willing to help, offering his story as something of a testimony.

"I had a 1.9 GPA, I believe, when I graduated. One of the reasons I want to be a principal is because I had great principals at the time when I was in school. They worked hands on with me and I was inspired by that, these people taking their time to work with a young kid, they could have been working with any other kid," he said.

"But they saw something special sometimes that I didn't always see in myself but standing here today that's something I can do and go and give back and help another person get to where I'm at."

Founded in 2001 by Ted Ginn, Sr., the Ginn Academy is the only all-male public high school in Ohio and boasts a 93 percent graduation rate. The school — which has more than 300 students currently enrolled — aims to mold boys into men through a series of core tenets — scholarship, leadership and service — and experiences and exposure to real-world experiences.

One of the things that sets the Ginn Academy apart from other similar institutions is its "Life Coaches," who are supported by the Cleveland Browns Foundation.

The 20 full-time staff members are assigned to watch over 20-25 students and guide them through their journey at the academy, both inside the classroom and outside of it.

"That's so important, young men need other men investing into their lives. That happened to me when I was in college, that happened to me earlier," Davis said, crediting a handful of figures at Arkansas State who helped him along the way to the NFL.

"When you have other men showing you what living a successful life looks like, what living a positive life looks like, just being a mentor, it changes the trajectory of your life so just hopefully these guys can get connected to people like that and the fact that our organization does something like that is really special."

On call 24-7, the Life Coaches are essentially a link between the school and home, tasked with making sure the students stay on course in regards to academics, attendance and positive behavior.

"I think a big part of everyone's growth is you need a mentor," Copper said, "and for us to come back and talk to these kids and give them some advice about our shortcomings and how we've become successful is huge."

Tuesday seemed like a reminder of that.

"I just feel like the way to change the world is to reach the next generation. So I've done a lot of different things working with children before. I was once a child, I know how they think," Davis said.

"It's just so important to give back — especially to the next generation — because that's who has the greatest chance to change the future world. I just want to leave the world in a better place."

The Browns are dedicated to #give10 through their First and Ten initiative, the team's community program founded to inspire fans to volunteer in and help their communities throughout the world by volunteering for 10 hours each year.

The Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community.

The Cleveland Browns Foundation — which is committed to a solution-based, holistic approach to ensure Northeast Ohio youth receive the development and education they need as a foundation for independence and success —  partners with the Ginn Academy to help provide Life Coaches for students and appropriate resources.

Republic Services — one of the largest providers of recycling and waste services — supported the event by donating products for the community service projects and on-site volunteering.

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