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Training Camp

Danny Shelton bringing Polynesian culture to Browns locker room

Danny Shelton watches documentaries on Netflix about ancient history and about aliens.

He has two dogs: a pitbull named Moni and a husky named Juicy. He drives a Chevy Silverado truck. His girlfriend Mara and the dogs are moving to Ohio soon.

He loves comedians Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. If the movie "Rush Hour" is on TV, Shelton will stop what he's doing to watch.

That's the American culture he loves. That's one side to the behemoth, 339-pound Shelton, who's quickly rising up the depth chart in Cleveland Browns training camp as a do-it-all defensive tackle.

You can't miss the other side, what Shelton refers to as the "Poly lifestyle" – traditions and culture he grew up with as an infant in the Samoan Islands. And he's bringing that culture to the locker room and city of Cleveland.

When Shelton arrived for training camp in late July, he brought with him a handful of lava-lavas, the traditional skirts worn by Polynesian men. Linebackers Scott Solomon and Craig Robertson have been spotted wearing them around the team cafeteria. Shelton said he and his agent are discussing the launch of a Polynesian clothing line.

"I wear it because you get a nice cool breeze on your legs," said Robertson, the team's de facto one-liner king. "But honestly, people are gravitating toward Danny. He's intense on the field but a goofball in the locker room. We need guys like that."

"We are embracing Danny," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We're a family at the end of the day. That's how we are approaching it. We're going to embrace his traditions. Bring it on, man. We're family. We're all in."


Born in California and raised in Washington, Shelton fully embraced his Polynesian roots, and they serve as the crux of his character. Tattoos all over his body symbolize a value he learned growing up in this culture – the warrior tooth necklace, a Polynesian arm sleeve representing the passageway into adulthood. 

Earlier this summer, the ponytailed defensive lineman flew back to Samoa, where several of his cousins were named chiefs of their village. Shelton participated in tribal ceremonies and helped make a drink known as Kava, a western Pacific plant mixed with water.

"It looks like dirt water and it tastes pretty bitter," Shelton said. "But it relaxes your body. It's a natural drink. It helps with soreness. After you drink it, you have the best night of rest."  

Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver can't help but smile when he sees Shelton walking around barefoot upstairs near the Browns coaching offices. Weaver was born in 1980 to military parents and his mother is of full Samoan descent. Shelton's ever-present reminder of their customs have given his coach a nostalgic feeling in Berea.

"The one thing about the Samoan culture is that they are tremendously proud people," Weaver said. "Anytime someone is put in a position where they can glorify that, it's huge."

While Shelton's individuality within the walls of the Browns locker room garners more notice by the day, his play on the football field is growing even more conspicuous.

Not even halfway through training camp, Shelton's repetitions with the first-team defense are increasing by the day. With his massive lower body churning like a Kitchen-Aid, No. 71 has been consistently eating, and sometimes disposing, two offensive linemen at a time.

"I think a lot of people would be surprised by his agility," Weaver said. "The rap on him coming out was that he's a first- and second-down guy. But when you watch him out there, he's able to flip his hips and win on the edge in pass rush. It's impressive."

Where training camp becomes the longest and hardest grind is in the classroom. After the Browns sign autographs, lift weights and eat lunch, the day's film is analyzed. Every player is given a positive or negative grade because, as Mike Pettine says, this is a pass-fail league. The classroom is where the best teams in the league win.

Coaches and teammates have been putting the heat on Shelton in these settings to see how he handles it.

"Anytime a coach asks him in a meeting, 'Danny – what's this?' Before the coach even finishes asking the question, Danny's answering it," safety Donte Whitner said. "He's an energetic guy. Have you seen him pick up a fumble? The moves and jukes he can make. You understand a guy that is 340 pounds should not be able to move like this. He's very enthused about the game of football."

September 20 marks the Browns' first regular season game at FirstEnergy Stadium. What the Dawg Pound will notice right away about Shelton is how much energy the new rookie brings to the field. Before the snap, he's waving his arms to raise the volume level, and, afterward, he'll let out big screams and spontaneous celebration jigs. 

Will some of the dances have a Polynesian flavor to them? You bet.

"I call it," Shelton said, "the Samoan Slapdance."

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