Cleveland Browns quarterback and Central Catholic grad DeShone Kizer makes his first pro start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEREA, Ohio — Before DeShone Kizer answers the prayers of the Browns — and I suspect he will — let us first say one for Kizer.
There is jumping in to the deep end and there is holding your NFL orientation session against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kizer, making his first pro start Sunday against Cleveland’s meanest schoolyard bully at sold-out FirstEnergy Stadium, would be like a young tenor singing his first live solo at Carnegie Hall.
Good luck, and hopefully not good night.
What say you, DeShone?
“A dream come true,” the Central Catholic graduate said Wednesday.
Will he feel the same at 4 p.m. Sunday?
OK, we kid because we love.
For so many reasons, I hope the hometown star enjoys a storybook debut.
I really do.
I do not want to dwell on the past (or the present).
I do not want to mention the Browns are the greenest team in the NFL — consider this: none of their eight quarterbacks and receivers were on the roster in March 2016 — or that Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl odds trail only those of the Patriots. Or that Cleveland is the biggest underdog of opening weekend. Or that the Steelers blitz as often as anyone and are 18-3 against rookie passers since 2004. Or that Findlay native Ben Roethlisberger has as many wins in Cleveland since 1999 (10) as any Browns quarterback.
Nor do I want to remind what happened the last time the Browns opened the season with a rookie quarterback. It was 2012, and Brandon Weeden completed 12 of 35 passes for a cool 118 yards and four interceptions in a loss to the lowly Eagles.
Weeden was 28. Kizer is 21, the youngest QB in the league.
I do not want to pour it on here.
But because this is the Cleveland Browns, where the desperation exceeds reason and perspective extends only as far back as the last touchdown (Super Bowl! Super Bowl!) or interception (Next man up!), it is important to lay it all out.
For all the shine and promise of a new era, storybooks are not reality. Chances are the kid with the bionic arm will look very human this season.
Remember that. Most do in their first year, including the Browns’ last franchise passer (Bernie Kosar) and the Lions’ current one (Matthew Stafford). Stafford was also 21 when he started from the outset in 2009. He threw 13 touchdown passes against 20 picks that year and the Lions went 2-14. Two years later, he tossed 41 touchdowns and Detroit made the playoffs.
A similar trajectory with Kizer would not surprise.
He will no doubt thrill and tease, dazzle with a big-play touchdown one moment, dumbfound the next with a needless sack or interception. It is all part of growing into the most difficult position of the fastest and most violent league on earth.
“We’re going to get with DeShone and ride him through it all,” coach Hue Jackson said, “and work with him through all this.”
For once, it’s time the Browns live by those words, beginning Sunday.
The best quarterback Toledo has ever produced called it “surreal” to begin his career against perhaps the best quarterback northwest Ohio has ever bred. Kizer was in second grade when the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger in 2004. Now, they’ll share the same 100-yard stage, and Kizer’s own size and big arm are already drawing comparisons to the five-time Pro Bowler he used to draft on his fantasy teams.
“I step out there in all of the preseason games that I play, and I look at guys that I have been watching on TV since I have been young,” Kizer said. “Big Ben has been playing in this league since I have been in grade school, so that is just a really weird concept.”
“At the same time,” he added, “his 11 on offense are going against my 11, and our 11 on offense are going against his defense.”
In other words, bring it.
If the rebuilding Browns are just beginning to again resemble an NFL franchise — our season prediction: 3-13 — Kizer and his teammates concede little. Before practice Wednesday, Kizer playfully asked a public relations assistant if he had something in his teeth, then coolly addressed a mass of reporters and cameras.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge for us,” Kizer said. “But I think this game plan that we’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare for, if we can go out and execute it, we will definitely find some success.”
And, if not, save your breath. The most important thing is embracing the ride, highs and lows and all.