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How growing up with an NFL father shaped, inspired 3 Browns players

Jackson Jeffcoat turned six years old just a few days before his father, Jim, played the final game of his 15-year NFL career. Understandably, most of Jeffcoat's memories as a child growing up with an NFL dad are a little foggy.

But there's one moment, a feeling, that sticks out more than any other. He can rub his face and harken back to Super Bowl XXVIII, when he was just a toddling 3-year-old.

"I remember being excited going on the field with him after the game and he'd be sweating and give us kisses. I remember his beard poking me," said Jeffcoat, a third-year Browns outside linebacker. "I was just so excited to be down there on the field."

Since March, the Browns have added three players to their roster who spent a chunk of their childhood watching their fathers play in the NFL. Coincidentally, all three had fathers who logged double-digit years with the same team, a rarity in today's NFL.

Jim Jeffcoat played 12 years with the Dallas Cowboys, won two Super Bowls, finished his career in Buffalo and ranks 28th all-time with 102.5 sacks. His son, Jackson, spent the past two seasons with the Redskins before he was claimed by the Browns in April.

Jessie Tuggle, the father of Browns inside linebacker Justin Tuggle, made the Pro Bowl five times and racked up 1,640 tackles over 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Justin signed with Cleveland in March after four seasons with the Houston Texans.

And Bruce Matthews, the father of Browns center Mike Matthews, is one of the NFL's greats. The 14-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman played with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1983-2001 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. Mike, whose uncle Clay Matthews II is a Browns legend, signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent shortly after the 2016 NFL Draft.

All three players found inspiration through their fathers at different stages of their youth while carving their own path and earning their respective spots on NFL rosters the hard way. None of the three, despite prolific college careers, were drafted.

Two of the three -- Matthews and Tuggle -- have brothers who are currently on the same NFL team. Jake Matthews is an offensive lineman and Grady Jarrett is a defensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons.

"Growing up in a football family is a huge blessing, especially since I started playing this sport, I've had a great surrounding crew, family members that have provided me with information," Mike Matthews said. "Growing up having my dad being a Hall of Famer and having the career he had, for me that was just normal. I just assumed it wasn't a big deal. As I've grown up and played more and more football, I kind of recognize the blessing that it is to have him as my dad. All the lessons he taught me at a young age, just the opportunity to learn stuff a lot earlier than people. It definitely gave me a great advantage.

"It's a pretty awesome deal."

For Matthews, it's more than just a father-son connection, of course.

If Matthews can crack Cleveland's 53-man roster and appear on the field for an NFL game, he'd be the eighth member of the family over three generations to do so. He'd be the second son of Bruce and fifth overall when you count the children of Bruce's brother, Clay II (Clay III, Casey, and Kevin).

Mike's older brother, Jake, was the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. For years, Mike knew his path to the NFL wouldn't follow that exact direction. At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, Mike is considered undersized for an NFL offensive lineman, but his determination hasn't been affected. The most important lesson Bruce taught him, whether it be during his early days of pee-wee football or in the moments after the NFL Draft, when they plotted the next move together -- was to "work with what you've got."

"He's always taught me to play to the whistle," Mike said. "You've got to have that edge. There's something about you that's got to flash as a player and for me that's my energy, just finishing plays.

"God's blessed our family with a lot of abilities but it was never handed to me. A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes to get to where I am today. It's definitely a huge blessing to finally be here. I never once took it for granted and assume it would just happen."

The biggest advice now, as Mike will spend the next two months fighting to grab a roster spot, centers on everything they experienced together on the football field and how it's built up to this important moment.

"You've committed to this, there's no quitting now, no turning back, you're going to finish what you started," Mike said. "For me, it's just a game I love to do and it's a known thing I want to carry and play as long as I can."

In celebration of Father's Day, take a look at 3 Browns players who grew up with a dad in the NFL.

Initially, Jim Jeffcoat didn't want Jackson to play football until he was in high school. Later, he relented, vowing for him to follow in his older brother Jaren's footsteps and start in the seventh grade.

That didn't stop Jackson from begging. By the sixth grade, his father couldn't bear it anymore. He asked Jaren if he'd be OK with Jackson starting one year earlier, and Jaren approved.

The wait was worth it.

Jim went right into coaching after his playing days were over but he kept his distance as Jackson worked his way through middle school and high school. He was always there for tips and advice, anything his son wanted, but he wasn't overbearing. He wanted his son to find his own way, and Jackson appreciated it.

The advice was best received after Jackson, following a 2013 season at the University of Texas in which he won the Ted Hendricks Award but went undrafted, embarked on his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks. He eventually landed with the Redskins and started his journey in the same division his father called home for so many years.

"He would tell me you've got to work your butt off," Jim said. "Playing in college, you're going against guys that are maybe four years older than you. In the NFL, there are 10-year vets and sometimes guys like him, 15-year vets. They know all the tricks. Their body may be breaking down but they're so smart, they know how to beat guys like us. You always have to study and stay on top of it. Be physically strong but mentally smart as well."

Jim is entering his fourth season as the defensive line coach at the University of Colorado. They're hundreds of miles apart and moments away from the daily grind are sparse, but Jim and Jackson have been in regular contact with each other as Jackson looks to stick with the Browns in a competitive room of outside linebackers.

"He knows I'm going to come in and work my butt off," Jackson said.

Justin Tuggle admits he didn't fully grasp what kind of football player he had for a father until the latter years of Jessie's 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

Now entering his fifth NFL season, Justin's appreciation hasn't stopped growing.

"I remember some Sundays asking my mom, 'can I stay at home, I don't want to go to the games,'" Tuggle said. "Then I started getting older, getting more into it, I'm starting to see, 'man, he's making plays. He's putting in a lot of work and it's paying off for him. Once I got older, I started respecting it a little bit more. Now that I see the day-to-day grind and what it takes to play at that level, I even respect him more now."

Justin made the most of the experience while it lasted, often venturing into the locker room after games and receiving gifts in the form of gloves and other equipment from his father's teammates. It didn't take long for Justin to catch the football bug, and he was more than comfortable in a set of pads and a helmet by the time his father retired from the league in 2000.

There were adolescent moments when Justin thought he knew it all and he didn't want to hear from his father. It took some simple maturation and understanding for his ears to open to Jessie's wealth of football knowledge.

"He'd make me mad and I'd run to my mom," Justin said. "As I grew up, I understand he meant the best for me and the things he was saying were good information but it's hard hearing it from your parents sometimes."

For years, Justin was a quarterback, a good enough of a one to land a scholarship at Boston College and, after a year at Blinn Community College -- the same place where Cam Newton springboarded from to Auburn -- was considered the No. 1 junior-college dual-threat quarterback in the nation. But for Justin to truly follow in his father's footsteps, he needed to switch positions (inside linebacker), and that didn't occur until his senior season at Kansas State.

Jessie had a feeling this kind of switch was in his son's future but he was happy to let his son find out on his own and make the decision for himself.

"He was there saying, 'Finally, I'm so glad you made this transition, you made your decision yourself,'" Justin said. "He helped accelerate the process for me, who I am today, I credit a lot of that to him.

"That's just the love he has for me. He knew the hard work I put into getting to this point, switching positions. When I made it, I felt like a little piece of him made it. He got to live through me and it's been a great experience so far."

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