GATES MILLS, Ohio — On Sunday morning, dozens of children of various ages gathered at Gilmour Academy to run drills and learn football fundamentals from Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Sitting on the grass of the football fields, waiting for the Cleveland star to kick off the ProCamp, chants of "OBJ!" broke out across the groups of children.
"Y'all are the reason I keep going," Odell Beckham Jr. said to the kids at the start of the camp. "Getting injured is tough and every time I come out here y'all put a smile on my face. I do this every single year for y'all. I'm not one for speeches, I just want to let y'all know we're trying to have some fun today so let's go ahead and do that. Again, I love y'all."
Beckham made his way around the fields after his speech, running drills with different groups of kids, many of whom were visibly star stuck by the NFL receiver.
But Sunday wasn't just a day for Beckham to teach slant routes and cone drills to the local youth—it was a way to deepen his connection to the area that he continues to call home as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
Talking to the kids as he bounced from group to group, Beckham bonded with the camp participants over everything from "Call of Duty: Warzone" to what color he should dye his hair next—and one camp participant even got a special shout out for his unique haircut.
Back to work
The Sunday ProCamp was Beckham's return to the Cleveland area before he reports to training camp in Berea on Tuesday.
A little fun before the hard work begins as the Browns prepare for the 2021 season—work that Beckham said he's very much looking forward to after an offseason of rehabilitating his knee following the surgery to repair a torn ACL he suffered last season.
"For being at the eight-and-a-half, nine-month mark, I'm doing very well in all my progressions," Beckham said. "Everything is going well, I can't wait to be back and be able to do more football stuff. When you have the offseason and you have to train and you have to do physical therapy for so long of it, it starts to weigh down on you. But I'm just excited to be back, see all the boys, get to see Jarvis [Landry]. Just excited to be back."
Although he's spent most of the offseason going through rehab and physical therapy, Beckham recently was able to get in some football work with some of his Browns teammates at a June workout hosted by quarterback Baker Mayfield in Austin, Texas. He said that being around the guys and getting back to work with them made the vision for this upcoming season even clearer.
"I feel like we have a special opportunity. I was down in Austin with Baker and seen him a few times since then, just kicking it, hanging out, and it's just something that feels special about this team," Beckham said.
Beckham, who was sidelined with a torn ACL in Week 7, is seemingly being fueled by his own absence last year, reflecting on what he could have done for the team had he not been injured—something he might carry with him as he returns to the field.
"The one game that hurt me the most, watching Kansas City. I know that I could have made one play, just something to help the team," Beckham said. "Watching the [Milwaukee] Bucks win a championship inspires you even more. Cleveland needs a championship and I think that's the goal, that's the mentality in that building and that's what I want to be a part of."
As he gets ready to report to camp on Tuesday, Beckham is focused—both on the field and off—after a lot of work on his game, his body and his mind.
"I think people don't really have an understanding or an idea what it feels like to put in every single thing, give up the offseason for hard work and then to have your season ended short for something that just happened. For me this one felt different. I've been injured before—I've shattered my ankle, had the hernia surgery, so it wasn't the first time I had surgery—and I felt like this was like third times a charm and this one kind of balanced me out," Beckham said. "More so from my mental side–me being able to reflect on decisions, myself, life, whatever it is—and make adjustments within myself. There's just been so much growth, I'm just in a different place. I'm very excited to be back."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.