INDIANAPOLIS — Toledo running back and Willoughby native Kareem Hunt grew up a Browns fan, still following the team through thick and thin.
"Always," he said, smiling, at the NFL's annual scouting combine Thursday. "I'm going to be a Browns fan until I die. I've been a Browns fan growing up, I'll be a Browns fan till I'm done playing football."
So it's easy to understand why Hunt has enlisted the help of one of the Browns' best in Earnest Byner, who played seven seasons in Cleveland and worked with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. this past year.
"I just feel he taught me a lot about the game, just about reading defenses, drawing up defenses, doing all that stuff," Hunt said. "He gave me a lot of great info and he's just a guy who really wants the best. He actually gave me a text earlier this morning — he just wants the best, and I appreciate everything he's done."
Hunt is part of a deep and talented running backs class that includes top prospects in LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey.
Hunt, who totaled more than 4,940 yards rushing in four seasons and is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, said he belongs in that conversation.
"I think I fit in right with the best of them, at the top," he said. "And I'm going to keep competing. That's what I do, I love to compete. I'm going to show up and be there every day."
The Browns, of course, return the duo of Crowell and Johnson who both impressed Jackson in a season of highs and lows. "I feel good about those guys, but I don't think anything is just set," he said. "However we can improve our team and make it better, that's what we're going to do."
That could include Hunt, who started this journey as a lightly-regarded three-star prospect from Willoughby South. After totaling almost 1,900 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Rockets last season, Hunt turned heads at the Senior Bowl in January with his hard-charging style and burst out of the backfield.
"I feel like it helped me out a lot, it showed I could really play with some of the best of the best," he said, adding he has a "chip on my shoulder."
"Honestly, I get a lot of stuff about 'Toledo doesn't play tough enough competition' sometimes and I came in with something to prove."
It was there Hunt also briefly crossed paths with Jackson and the coaching staff, who were working with the South roster for the week. Hunt said he's meeting with Cleveland's staff, among other clubs, on Thursday night.
Asked to entertain the prospect of playing for his hometown team, he offered a smile."It'd mean a lot," he said.
"I would be home and just be able to play and enjoy my time at home and just have a lot of supporters and family out there, and it'd be a huge experience."