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Donte Whitner and teammates deliver powerful messages to Ginn Academy students

Millionaires bleed just like you. NFL players get tired just like you.

Don't listen to the voices inside your head that tell you your dream isn't worth it.

Life is not a game. The world is serious. Everything that glitters isn't gold.

Impact somebody else with positive vibes along your journey.

These powerful messages were delivered to 55 members of the rising senior class at Ginn Academy on Wednesday in one of several impactful community events the Cleveland Browns Foundation will throw this summer.

Safety Donte Whitner, cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Robert Nelson, linebacker Keith Pough and wide receiver Kevin Cone stood before the classroom and, in convincing fashion, preached their own unique methods of how they made something of their lives – and to listen to the life coaches Ginn Academy provides each student. The program is partially funded by the Cleveland Browns Foundation.

Whitner told the wide-eyed students, who were dressed in their white buttoned-down shirts and red bow ties, it was those who doubted him that fueled him to do midnight workouts, to take class seriously, to become a leader others would follow.

"I was hit by a car when I was six years old. There was a doctor who said I couldn't walk ever again. Here I am running and jumping." Whitner said. "When I transferred from Benedictine High School to Glenville, there was a coach who said I would never make anything of myself there. He said big-time schools like Florida State or Miami don't recruit at Glenville. I never listened to those voices."


Moments after Pough began to speak, it wasn't hard to tell he is the son of a South Carolina pastor. The first-year player from Howard University in Washington D.C. spoke passionately about the little things – caring about your appearance, making strong first impressions to elders and, mostly, creating a vision for your future and following that path.

"You are your biggest investment," Pough said. "If you want something bad enough you fight for it. If you want to live in Fiji or Thailand, these things are possible. But you have to motivate yourself. You have to encourage yourself. Most of the people in a room won't believe in you. They'll want you to fail. That's where the vision kicks in. You believe in that vision so much that is sounds crazy to everyone else. Your mind is powerful."

Nelson and Williams share a similar backstory with their path to the NFL. Both grew up in rough neighborhoods where friends ended up pursuing trouble. Both were undrafted free agent tryout players who ended up on the field as rookies last season for the Browns. Both rid themselves of distracting people from their hometowns and found mentors in football.

"If you want to make a difference in this world you've got to surround yourself by people who want to be different," Williams said.

Cone might've said the most impactful thing that sticks with the Ginn Academy students as they embark on the last true summer of their youth.

"You guys are seniors, so you are leaders now whether you like it or not," Cone said. "What you guys do, kids see, families see. I never saw myself as a leader until my first year in the NFL. When I did some community outreach work, kids are coming up to me like they love me, and I don't even play. It's the same thing being a senior now. You guys are now leaders."

When the discussion wrapped up, Whitner and his teammates gave each student willing to to take action in their lives an autographed football. They continued to pose for pictures and the players encouraged them to pick up a book or two this summer.

As Whitner and Pough drove away in their cars, a group of Glenn Academy students peered through a window in the front of the school. Positive ideas were planted inside the minds of 55 young men. An entrepreneur or a scientist may have been born.

It may have been off the field, but the Browns made a difference in the world Wednesday.  

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