BEREA, Ohio — The Browns haven't had a full crowd of fans in attendance at a training camp practice since 2019, but on Saturday that changed—and the audience was a much-appreciated change of pace for the team.
Heading into the practice session, head coach Kevin Stefanski shared his excitement for the fans to make their full return.
“The players love playing in front of the fans. We're excited to have them. It will be my first training camp where it's a true open camp and you have both sides of the field with fans," Stefanski said. "I think it was a little bit more muted with just one side and that type of thing. I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to that energy that it brings because it does ramp up the energy that the players then have.”
As the players walked onto the field with swarms of fans on both sidelines, chants of "Big Reem!" "My-les Gar-rett!" and "Chubb, Chubb, Chubb," filled the air. There were praises for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who gave his first performance as a Brown in front of fans, and excitement for Jacoby Brissett, who followed Watson in practice reps.
Fans were able to walk around the facilities and participate in different activities and pop-ups. At the annual Puppy Pound adoption center, 10 puppies from the Northeast Ohio SPCA found new homes Saturday.
But the big takeaway was the lasting impression the open practice is set to have on the next generation of football fans. Young kids shouted out to their favorite players, hoping to get an autograph or piece of worn clothing to remember the day by.
"Deshaun Watson, we’re going to the super bowl this year, for sure," one young fan said after leading the fans around him in a "Here we go Brownies" chant. “I want to see some good plays, I just want to see everyone do good.”
Interacting with the fans is something that safety Grant Delpit was very much looking forward to because it reminded him of when he was a kid himself.
“I’m excited. Y’all know, I haven't really been here with fans before. You know, we had fans last year, I think was only on that side though. So we’re going to have some fun man. Meet some kids and make some kids day," Delpit said. "I remember going to Saints training camp when I was young. That was the coolest thing ever, man. So we’re going to try to make some people’s day out here.”
After the practice session was over, players made their way to different areas of the fields to interact with fans. Rookies Cade York and Michael Woods III, as well as tackle Jack Conklin, met with young fans one by one, signing autographs, taking pictures and promising to like some pictures on Instagram.
Not long after, the kids in the autograph line spotted Watson and started chanting for the quarterback to come over to meet them and he obliged. Watson ran across the field and met with the young fans, even playing rock, paper, scissors with two boys for his cleats. One of the boys won, the other lost, but both got a signed cleat in the end.
The energy in Berea is something that was missed by the players and staff—and clearly something the fans have been waiting to bring for some time.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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