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Rashard Higgins and Christian Kirksey reflect on NFL careers as they retire as Browns

Higgins and Kirksey signed one-day contracts with Cleveland to retire after both played six seasons with the Browns

Higgins and Kirko Retirement

As Rashard Higgins and Christian Kirksey stood behind the podium at the Browns CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, they each held up a jersey – Higgins with No. 82 and Kirksey with No. 58. Higgins and Kirksey signed one-day contracts on April 16 and officially retired as Cleveland Browns.

Higgins was selected by the Browns in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and played six seasons in Cleveland from 2016-21. Kirksey was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft and also played six seasons with the Browns from 2014-19.

"Cleveland believed in me," Kirksey said. "I wasn't expecting to come to Cleveland, and I wasn't expecting to go as high as I did in the draft. I just remember the day that I got drafted, and I was just in disbelief that they gave me an opportunity. They gave me a chance. So, I wanted to come back full circle. I mean, I got drafted in 2014, and it's 2024 – it's like a whole 10 years later. Being able to end my football career in the place that I started, it just meant a lot."

As Kirksey stepped off the plane in Cleveland, he was taken back to 2014 when he was drafted and came to Cleveland for the first time as a prospect out of Iowa. From his first days in Cleveland, the city embraced him, and he felt that love once again in returning to retire with the Browns.

"It's just a blessing to be able to be a part of an organization and to officially end my career here," Kirksey said. "It's something that I dreamed of since I was a kid, to be able to play in the league and to be able to buy into an organization and become family and just to come back and to do that."

Kirksey appeared in 73 games over his six seasons and registered 463 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, 16 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He served as a captain in each of his final three seasons with the club. Kirksey finished among the NFL leaders in tackles in 2016 with 143 (third) and 2017 with 138 (fourth). He then went on to play for the Packers in 2020 and the Texans from 2021-22.

Kirksey was also named the Browns 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and the Texans 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, earning the rare distinction of being the nominee of two different teams for one of the league's most prestigious awards. He was also voted by the Cleveland media as the 2016 PFWA Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award winner.

He also focused his efforts in the community around giving back to the youth and social equality initiatives. He created the Kirkoland Foundation to aid and encourage individuals to be themselves, be proud and be their own rockstar. Kirksey provided opportunities for local kids in need which included bowling events, youth football camps, fashion shows, as well as bringing kids to Cedar Point and sporting events. He also dedicated numerous hours visiting neighborhoods in Cleveland and routinely met with kids at local recreation centers alongside of safety forces who work in the neighborhoods to promote unity.

"Just going out and having my first fashion show here, having football camps here, just going and doing different charity events here, the Secret Santa's, just everything that I embody is Cleveland," Kirksey said. "It's a blue-collar city to where you gotta work hard. You gotta believe in yourself if nobody else believes in you. And I feel like everything that Cleveland embodies, that's me. So, I just wanted to come back and pay it forward and be a part of this organization and end my career here. So that played a big part in it."

For Kirksey, Cleveland has played an integral in his life, not only in his NFL career, but also his personal life. His wife, Kendra, is from Cleveland and his daughter, Aria, was born in Cleveland.

"Everything is just special to me about Cleveland, so it just felt good coming back here," Kirksey said.

For Higgins, the sentiment was similar. He developed a motto for himself focused on making others believe.

"I feel like in order to make them believe, somebody had to believe in me," Higgins said. "And Cleveland was the first to believe in me. I spent six years of my life here, hard years of my life here. And I feel like the group that we had, we set the standard. We went to the playoffs, and that's where the bar is, for each group that comes in here. And it only made it right to do it as a Brown, the same way I came in is the same way I gotta go out."

Higgins appeared in 82 games over his six seasons in Cleveland and recorded 137 receptions for 1,890 yards with 12 touchdowns. Nicknamed "Hollywood" by his pee-wee football coach, Higgins was a favorite amongst his teammates and with Browns fans. His infectious personality caught on with fans with the creation of his red-carpet rollout touchdown celebration that saw his teammates imitate rolling out fabric in front of him while others mimicked paparazzi snapping phots as he walked.

"I would say just the naturality behind everything," Higgins said as to why fans loved him. "They just want you to be yourself and as long as you can catch that ball and do good for the team, then they love you for who you are."

His best performances with the Browns came against AFC North Division rivals. Higgins set a career high for receptions at Baltimore, while his career high receiving yards came at Cincinnati and his only career multiple touchdown game was in Pittsburgh. A product of Colorado State, Higgins led the nation in 2014 with 1,750 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns receptions, both of which were single-season school records.

Higgins was also active in the Cleveland community volunteering at numerous youth football, military appreciation and Special Olympics events. He made a direct impact on the youth of Cleveland during school visits and organized bowling events to unite the community. During the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative, he raised funds and awareness for the Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Ohio in 2021, Providence House in 2020, Animal Cruelty/Mesquite Animal Pawtners in 2018 and kidney disease in 2017.

"For me, growing up I never had somebody to look up to as far as, 'oh, they were doing a turkey giveaway and I got to meet an NFL player' or you get what I'm saying?" Higgins said. "And for us to just go out in the community and put face behind a helmet, that means a lot to kids, that means a lot to anybody."

As Higgins transitions to the next stage of his life following his NFL career, he's focused on taking care of his two kids, Sevin and Saynt, and being a father. His time in as a member of the Cleveland Browns and in the NFL will have a lasting impact on his life. For Higgins, he will remember the most from his six seasons with the Browns when they beat the Steelers and went to the playoffs in 2020.

"I'll never forget that moment," Higgins said. "Worked so hard for it, the 0-16's. And it's like, 'man, this is hard.' And to see the fruit of the labor just flourish right in front of us, that was amazing. It was amazing to go to the playoffs. I'll never forget that moment."

As the two brought their press conference to a close on Tuesday, officially marking the end of their NFL careers, Kirksey gave one final signature Dawg Check sendoff.

"When you think of a Dawg Check, you think of the Dawg Pound," Kirksey said. "But you think of crucial moments where everything is in chaos. Everything is going crazy in the game, the momentum is switching, and things of that matter, it's like you yell to your boys, you yell to your brother's, 'Dawg Check', to make sure you understand, like, 'Bro, this is a moment where, like, I need you. So, like, where the dawg at in you?' And I think that the city of Cleveland embodies it because of the hard work and dedication, that's what it's really about."

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