On a chilly, overcast day in Berea, Jhavonte Dean was again living life on the edge.
Lined up at the familiar position of cornerback, Dean dropped back in coverage and was faced with a choice: break up a pass or go for the interception. He chose the riskier approach and ended up in the end zone, bringing the football along for the ride.
The pick-six was one of two for Dean on his first day as a tryout player at Browns rookie minicamp in early May. Now, he's a member of the 90-man roster, the latest development on his improbable path from Homestead, Florida, to the NFL.
Dean grew up in the Miami area, played pee-wee football with and against current Browns Sheldrick Redwine and Antonio Callaway, attended South Dade High School and earned a three-star status as a recruit in the class of 2015. That type of background would lead one to believe he might have enjoyed relative success in Division I football and rode a late-round NFL draft selection to his first NFL OTAs.
Check out photos from the third day of OTA practices
Wrong. Dean chose the University of Cincinnati in early 2015 but never made it to the field because his test scores didn't stack up. With the assistance of Cincinnati coaches, Dean landed at Blinn College, which happened to have one scholarship remaining (and was also once a stepping stone of Cam Newton). He spent the next two years of junior college ball upping his three-star rating to a four-star mark.
That attracted attention from some heavy hitters of the NCAA, namely, Nick Saban. Dean received an offer from Alabama and committed in late July 2016, seemingly authoring a great comeback story for himself from the uncertainty of student-athlete life in Brenham, Texas, to the roaring crowds of Bryant-Denny Stadium. A sharp turn awaited him, though.
"I used to tell my teammates, 'man, if I get a Miami offer, I might go,'" Dean recalled Thursday. "Miami kind of came late but they came strong and when they came, they stayed talking to me, they stayed communicating with me and then the coaches came to the school for a little visit and they were just talking to me and everything just made sense to me to go play back home, make it easy for my family to come to the games. It was very beneficial for me."
Dean ended up decommitting from Alabama and signing to attend Miami, where he appeared in 25 games over his final two seasons of eligibility. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions during his senior season -- a campaign in which he said he opened up and formed bonds with teammates -- hired an agent and received a sobering evaluation: undrafted free agent hopeful at best.
Again, he was on an uphill path with little chance for success.
"I just felt like I just needed an opportunity," Dean said. "I kind of understood my situation, I knew I wasn't a high-profile player. I knew what I could do at the time. Up until the draft I'm just staying patient, staying humble, praying, and then when the draft was over, I got a call from the Browns and the next day I was told I got a tryout. Rookie minicamp.
"My teammates, my parents, I told them I'm not leaving Cleveland without signing. So I just put everything on the line, everything I have and it's starting to pay off now."
Dean found himself in a familiar situation. He'd gone to Blinn with the sole goal of earning a Division I scholarship, as many JUCO players hope to receive. He lived that dream at Miami, but was now headed north to the same state in which he was once supposed to reside as an undergrad with nothing more than a chance to perform for a few days with the hopes he might grab the eye of a talent evaluator.
That reality -- that he was back in Ohio, this time as a professional -- didn't land on him until Thursday. He hasn't had much time to consider it.
"I didn't know what to expect," Dean said of his rookie minicamp experience. "My first day on the field, I was kind of nervous. I'm with an NFL team. People thought I'd never make it. The odds are against me. I was nervous, had to learn a new playbook, meet new players, build a bond with my new teammates. The first day, I was nervous, but after I started making plays I was like 'I can do this.'"
Dean shined in the minicamp, making plays on the ball and showing a natural ability to cover closely. He had no indication, though, that the Browns wanted to sign him until he walked off the field after the final minicamp practice. He and Miami teammate Trayone Gray were two of just three tryout players signed to the 90-man roster. Their addition also brought the Browns' total of Hurricanes to eight.
Check out photos from the second day of OTA practices
Dean has since been tasked with processing the high of signing an NFL contract while also adjusting to his new surroundings and even more new information specific to defensive coordinator Steve Wilks' scheme. That includes thinking of himself not as a cornerback, but as a defensive back. He has some help, though, in the form of a familiar face: Redwine, a fourth-round pick of the Browns and former Miami teammate of Dean and Gray.
Redwine was part of the same minicamp that earned Dean his contract, telling his former Hurricanes mate "come on Dean, you've got to make this play. This might be your last opportunity."
"We'll be in practice sometimes and I'll be kind of tight and he'll be like 'hey Dean, you gotta push through,' stuff like that," Dean said. "From my teammate that I played (with) for two years, I know he's going to put his body on the line so if I'm hearing that from him, it makes me want to make plays. I don't want to let him down.”
In the meantime, Dean is spending the little downtime he gets between OTAs and meetings picking the brains of veterans on the roster and recapping practice with his pal, Redwine, and hotel roommate Jermaine Ponder, a fellow UDFA who was signed three days before Dean.
He doesn't yet know many of his fellow Browns and admits he has a tendency to keep to himself. During his first season at Miami, Dean said he was quiet and reserved, waiting until his final season with the Hurricanes to open up and have fun with his teammates.
Check out photos from the first day of OTA practices
Even without the bonds yet to be forged, Dean starts each day the same: He says a round of prayers, first for his mother, who raised him as a single parent, his younger sister, Jaquasha, and his brother, Jacolby Foster, who is currently incarcerated. Then he prays for his teammates, for the preservation of their health and for the ability to perform at a high level. He's well aware of the fragility of his current position, but grateful for it.
"It's a blessing to be a part of the 90-man roster, but I've got bigger goals," Dean said. “I want to make the 53-man roster. Take it one day at a time, just keep staying in my playbook, keep going out there every day and grinding. Just running to the ball and hustling and show the coach I want to be here."
Dean might be in a new place with new faces and a new playbook, but familiarity exists. He's battling the odds once again and doesn't take it for granted. His time at Blinn won't allow it.
"It motivated me a lot because I had to go the harder route instead of just going straight to a university," he said of his junior college experience. "It made me cherish football more."
He'll get to cherish it for at least one more summer, his first in Ohio.