Justin Currie, who joined the Browns practice squad in December, could tell there was something special about Cleveland following a tryout with the team late last season.
The second-year safety and former Western Michigan standout said it all reminded him of home back in Big Rapids, Michigan, and so did the people working inside the team's facility.
"Right away, after that tryout I was like, 'I really hope I end up going here.' And when I got the call, I was ecstatic," he said last week.
"From meeting everybody on the staff, to the main office to the equipment guys to the weight room guys, everything just felt right. And being from Michigan, not far away, even the city of Berea here and Cleveland reminds me a lot of home. And so right away, that really hit me and the guys on the team are great. It's a lot of young guys on the team trying to prove something and I'm right there with them."
Indeed, Currie has emerged as something of a pleasant surprise throughout training camp, earning reps with the first- and second-team defense as the Browns start to curate their 53-man roster. An undrafted free agent in 2015 who was waived by the Giants because of an injury, Currie has found something of a niche under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has laid out an earn-your-keep philosophy when it comes to playing time.
"I'll tell you this, he's a surprising young man to most. I think he does some really good things," assistant defensive backs coach Jerod Kruse said. "He's really come into his own in the scheme and he's comfortable in it."
That has been evident as the Browns prepare for Monday's preseason game against New York. In the team's most-recent unofficial depth chart, Currie is listed as a starter opposite of Derrick Kindred following an injury to Ibraheim Campbell (concussion) in Thursday's opener.
Ask Currie about that rise up the depth chart, though, and he'll shrug it off. "It's nice to see that," he said, "but it just shows you there's work to be done."
That workmanlike approach has served Currie well as he competes for a roster spot in a room that includes Kindred, Campbell, rookie and 25th overall pick Jabrill Peppers and Calvin Pryor III.
A two-star prospect at Big Rapids High School, Currie blossomed into a pivotal player an hour-and-a-half north at Western Michigan, amassing 340 tackles, five interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 37 starts. He was also key in helping the upstart Broncos finish 8-5 his senior season after a 1-11 campaign in 2013.
When Currie went undrafted the following spring, he said "that really didn't mean much to me."
"It's great to get drafted," he continued, "but I've always come from a background of with a chip on my shoulder. I came from a small town in Big Rapids — a lot of people have never heard of it. It was just another one of those scenarios, even coming out of high school into college, being from a small town going to a D1 school, there's a lot to prove. So then going undrafted was just another one of those things where you have something to prove."
So far in camp, Currie has earned the confidence of the coaching staff. "There's a high level of trust there," Kruse said. "His physical toughness and effort is never in question. You're going to see him make more plays than you may think"
And as Currie continues to draw attention, he emphasized now is not the time to grow complacent.
"I think it's really about the journey and not the end result," he said. "It's always the journey and trying to work toward the end result but you got to remember there's always so much work you can do and that needs to be done."