Fuel Up To Play 60 Summit at FirstEnergy Stadium on July 18, 2019
On a beautiful Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns quarterback shuffled out of the pocket slightly to his right before whistling the football about 30 yards in the direction of the Dawg Pound for a potential score.
One would have usually expected that throw to come from Baker Mayfield.
Not this time. That majestic toss came from 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard Joel Bitonio, who had a smile on his face from ear to ear.
Bitonio, along with several Browns teammates -- including Austin Corbett, Seth DeValve, Larry Ogunjobi, Rashard Higgins, Dontrell Hilliard, Jarvis Landry and Anthony Zettel --were on hand for the conclusion of the 10th annual NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador Summit, a four-day program bringing together more than 250 students and 100 educators across 45 states to exchange ideas on how to better youth wellness programs across the country.
The passing connections Bitonio made throughout the afternoon paled in comparison to the ones he strived to make on the field.
“You want to see them having a good time,” Bitonio said. “Just to have that connection, if that makes them a little happier or inspires them to do something they might not, it’s worth it for me. Just being out here and having some fun with these guys is everything for me.
FUTP60’s main focus is to encourage kids to have a quality balance of eating healthy and at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Since its launch in 2009, more than 73,000 schools have enrolled in the program.
A day that started out with service projects across Cleveland wrapped up at the stadium, where the Browns players led teams of students out of the home tunnel and onto the field for an hour of flag football games.
Guided by the coaching wisdom and gunslinging abilities of their Cleveland captains, not even the near 90-degree heat could deter the fun and the good times rolled right into the Browns Adapted Football League All-Star festivities, which took place after the FUTP60 games concluded.
The AFL, serving more than 120 athletes each year, has given children and adults with disabilities the opportunity to play football since 2011.
Transitioning back into a more familiar position, Bitonio, alongside fellow guard Corbett, provided blocking duties for the second hour of on field activity.
Although some still might classify the 23-year-old Corbett as a kid, the enthusiasm on the field brought him back to his own childhood.
“It’s that same joy that you remember having as a kid,” Corbett said. “It’s so awesome to see these kids take off with so much energy. It’s hot out here but they could care less.”
The events wrapped up with an awards ceremony, speeches from players and staff members, dancing and a serenade into the sunset from the Browns drumline.
For the veteran Bitonio, he recalled his own first experience on Cleveland’s lakefront and couldn’t have been more excited to share that same experience with those he met throughout the day.
“They’re playing in FirstEnergy Stadium,” Bitonio said. “I was pretty shocked playing here for the first time so I can’t imagine what they’re thinking. For them to run in and score a touchdown, I feel like some dreams came true today.”