Spencer Drango knew something wasn't right. As a fourth grader thriving at math but laboring through English and language arts, Drango couldn't put a finger on it.
Drango was eventually tested for dyslexia, a learning disability, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, that makes reading difficult because of the brain's struggle to decode and process letters, words and language. Drango, then a young boy growing up in Texas, was one of the millions to be diagnosed with it.
Knowing he wasn't alone was the first step toward overcoming and thriving with the disorder.
"It is more common than you think. Just because someone is struggling with something, it doesn't mean they're dumb. They just learn a little different. That's the biggest thing," Drango said. "That's my message to push and encourage. It didn't hold me back once I learned how to overcome it and cope with it. You can excel and do whatever you want."
Drango will push that message Sunday in conjunction with the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign, when he dons customized cleats that honor the Dyslexia Foundation, a non-profit organization established to identify and assist children with dyslexia. Drango is one of 18 Browns who will honor their respective causes Sunday when the Browns take on the Chargers in Los Angeles.
Drango, a second-year offensive lineman who has taken the reins at left tackle for the injured Joe Thomas, has been involved with dyslexia advocacy for years. During his college career at Baylor, Drango routinely spoke to children afflicted with the disorder, allowing them to put a locally famous face on a condition that may have caused them embarrassment or self-consciousness.
"It's rewarding to you because you can see them, you're an athlete and they look up to you that way," Drango said. "You have the connection where we have the same thing. It didn't define me so it shouldn't define the kid. Look what people have done with it."
Once Drango was diagnosed, schoolwork and everything else that accompanied it got just a little bit easier. There were just little tweaks along the way.
When he began playing football as a seventh grader, Drango had a customized wristband with the team's play calls, much like what quarterbacks around the NFL wear. Instead of a simple list of plays, Drango's wristband said what the play was and what he did for each specific call.
Even today, Drango said the disorder can affect him at times. It just doesn't hinder his ability to thrive in his chosen profession.
That's the message he hopes reaches at least one person who is just like him.
"Just embrace it," Drango said. "That's what I've done."