Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Jamie Meder's safety against Green Bay marked the first time he had ever scored in a football game. (John Kuntz, cleveland.com)
By Dan Labbe
August 31, 2016
BEREA, Ohio -- Jamie Meder had plenty of people watching him when he scored for the first time in his football career. The points came against Green Bay in the Browns first preseason game a few weeks ago when he tackled running back James Starks in the endzone for a safety.
There was Joe Taylor, his coach during his early years at Valley Forge High School in Parma Heights just outside of Cleveland. He couldn't help but laugh.
"He gets up, does the flex," Taylor said. "It was just fun. I'm just excited for him."
There was Chris Medaglia, too. He coached Meder during his junior and senior seasons and is now the athletic director at Forge.
"For a kid from Parma Heights, went to Valley Forge, my hometown, where I work now, where I grew up, it's more of a civic pride thing than anything," he said.
Then, of course, there was the entire Ashland University football team. Their head coach, Lee Owens, made sure to cut meetings short that day so they could watch the Browns' preseason opener and their favorite Ashland alum.
"I guess a couple of the houses and dorms just erupted when he scored the safety," Owens said. "Guys are going nuts."
"It was awesome. First time I've ever scored in a football game," Meder said. "It took like 16 years of playing to get that so I'm fine with it."
Meder is as understated as an NFL player can be. He's almost uncomfortable talking about himself. When you talk to the people that have been around him, though, the men who coached him and helped guide him on his path to the NFL, you quickly find that he is both competitive and genuine, fierce and fiercely loyal.
"If this town can rally behind a player, it's him," Medaglia said. "He signifies and embodies everything this town was built on."
Meder's football roots run back to the Tri-City Youth Football League, the program that combines the communities of Parma, Parma Heights and Seven Hills. That's where he started playing and it's where he sometimes returns, hosting a youth camp for the program last summer.
Taylor knew Meder from an early age, mostly through Meder's dad, Don, a longtime coach who came over to Valley Forge to coach Jamie's older brother and then Jamie.
"(Jamie) used to come around and condition with us before he was even in high school," Taylor said. "His dad would bring him up and he would run laps or he'd do the sprints the other kids were doing."
When he got to high school, he started where everyone else did at Valley Forge: freshman football. Taylor laughs now about keeping him on the freshman team. He says he did it to account for the age difference between Meder and older varsity players and to keep the incoming freshman group together.
It didn't stop Meder from hitting the ground running after that first season at Forge.
"When he was a sophomore, he was clearly ready to play varsity football," Taylor said. "He played both sides of the ball for us."
'THE BADDEST 18-YEAR-OLD ALIVE'
Jamie Meder at age 25 looks like a football player. He's every bit of 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds. He sports a beard that would make Santa Claus jealous.
Meder looked like a football player at 18, too. Taylor said that he reminded him of Don, that he was built like his father with a big barrel of a body.
"He's got that incredible strength," Taylor said. "He's got that frame. ... Just strong and aggressive."
"He built himself in the weight room," Taylor said.
There's a clip from one of Meder's game tapes from high school where he breaks into the backfield and brings down the running back. As the play unfolds, you can hear in the background someone exclaim, "Look at him!"
The film, provided to cleveland.com by Medaglia, is the opposite of high definition, but you don't need it to find No. 52 in white. He's either bursting through the line to disrupt a play or, on offense, bowling people over from his center position.
Meder laughs when it's brought up to him.
"Every play was just like, who can I just knock on the ground," he said.
"You talk to him personally, he's a really nice kid," Taylor said, "but you get him on the field, he's a nasty kid that wants to hit you."
Medaglia doesn't mince words when it comes to describing how tough he thought Meder was.
"When he was 18 years old, there wasn't another kid in the country that could kick his butt," he said. "He was the baddest 18-year-old alive."
Meder backed up Medaglia's words on the football field, of course. But he also proved it in a less traditional place for a high school athlete: the boxing ring. He won the Cleveland Gold Gloves district championship in 2009 as a senior.
"When he beat (one of his opponents)," Medaglia said, "he knocked the kid's mouthpiece out of his mouth in the ring."
Taylor recalled the mouthguard story, too.
"It just talks about his power," he said. "His sheer power is ridiculous."
There's video of the match on YouTube. You can't see the mouthguard flying, but it's an unmistakable moment when they stop the fight to fetch it and give it back to Meder's opponent.
Meder, for his part, was unimpressed by his own accomplishments.
"I was alright," he said. "There weren't too many guys that were there for me, but I wasn't bad at it."
The sport Meder really believes helped him most was wrestling. He was state runner up in 2009 in the heavyweight division.
"I've always believed wrestling has made me a better football player than football has," Meder said. "Practices were always just way more grueling in wrestling. ... Just the balancing, the handfighting, all the pummeling, I feel has always made me better because inside when you're pass rushing, all it is is just hand-on-hand combat."
"He learned to use his feet and balance a little bit," Medaglia said. "It let him use his hands and his feet and apply leverage. He applies leverage as good as anybody you're going to find."
Those skills translated to Meder dominating for the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
"He played everywhere (on defense)," Medaglia said. "Defensive tackle, defensive end, strong side, weak side, people would run away from him because they didn't want to go anywhere near him."
Owens said Meder's skill on the defensive line can be attributed to what he learned from boxing and wrestling.
"His ability to punch with leverage and to swat the offensive line's hands off him, he's really, really good at that," Owens said. "He's got a heck of a punch. Strong, powerful, quick and accurate. ... Those big linemen are going to grab you and you've got to find a way to separate and swat and get free and he really does that well. He's got great hands, great feet."
On the other side of the ball, he was so good at center that Medaglia built an entire inside running game around him.
"I put him at center to showcase his skills," Medaglia said. "I kept telling all the recruiters, watch this kid snap the ball and step. Watch his hands."
Owens, in fact, originally signed him at Ashland thinking he might be a center.
"I was an offensive line coach by trade and those are the kind of guys you want at center," Owens said. "Big, strong guys, tough guys and he has great feet. He'd be a heck of a center"
Owens ultimately couldn't pass on putting Meder on the defensive line and Meder was fine with it.
"I never really wanted to play offense when I got to college," he said. "I was done with it after high school and thank God they let me follow that dream."
Regardless of where he was playing, though, just how did Meder, an elite athlete in high school in multiple sports -- the combination of size, speed and power that any college coach would want -- end up at Division II Ashland?
'MAKING THE GRADES'
The answer is that he didn't go straight to Ashland. He had to spend a semester at Cuyahoga Community College out of high school just to get eligible to go to Ashland.
"I put my dreams on hold because I was a little lazy in high school, going to classes and stuff," Meder said.
"He had to earn his way to get to Ashland University," Medaglia said. "It's not like he walked out of high school and just went there. He had to go to school and get prepared to go to Ashland."
Spending that fall semester at Tri-C and waiting to enroll at Ashland in the spring of 2010 was a difficult one for Meder, spent pondering the possibility of letting down his father.
"I felt so bad disappointing him that I wasn't going to play football in college," he said, "and it was a rough few months until I got to Ashland."
Once he got to Ashland, the real work started. Meder said Ashland's coaching staff had an academic plan for him and it involved "study tables, study tables and why not a little more study tables?"
Alongside knowing a possible career in the NFL was hanging in the balance, Meder found real life staring him in the face.
"If I get kicked out (of college), you better go find a job," he said. "... If I get kicked out of there, I better find somewhere to live. I don't think I can go home."
He graduated from Ashland with a degree in criminal justice.
"He did everything we asked him to do in the classroom the whole time he was there and he got his degree and graduated before he came out," Owens said. "He did everything right. He's done everything right since he was with us."
Out of Ashland, he caught on with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2014. After the Ravens cut him that August, he caught on with the Browns practice squad, was elevated to the active roster at the end of the 2014 season and appeared in all 16 games for the Browns last season.
After everything he had to work through to get here, Meder's not about to take it for granted.
"Oh yeah," Meder said. "Growing up, it's always like, man, it would be awesome to play for my favorite team. It's awesome that I got here."
'HE'S STILL JAMIE'
It's no surprise that Meder wants to play close to home. If anything is clear in talking to those who know him, where he came from is important.
That was evident to Owens last fall when he noticed that one of his potential recruits wasn't attending a recruiting day at the college with his parents. He was there with Meder.
"I've got all these recruits in the audience and instead of this young man having his mother and father with him, he's got Jamie Meder with him," Owens said.
The young man was Jarret Sullivan. He wasn't like Meder -- a blue chip prospect that had fallen through the cracks. He was just a kid from Valley Forge that Meder knew had a shot to get into college.
Sullivan ended up at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, but the day left a lasting impression on Owens.
"He made a point to pick him up and get him down for recruiting day," Owens said. "...This was just a young man looking for a place to play ball."
"I want anybody from my high school to go there and do well," Meder said. "It's awesome to see that."
Owens called Meder a "loyal Eagle" and said, "He's the kind of alum you want. He's the kind of teammate you want. He's the kind of friend you want."
"He's still Jamie to (our players)," Owens said. "He's not an NFL player. He's still their buddy who comes down to see them on occasion. It's a neat thing. It's a cool thing."
"He's just trying to give back," Taylor said. "I think he really looks at the opportunity he's got and he really is unselfish."
Perhaps nothing speaks to his loyalty and character more than when he spent the spring he was preparing for the NFL Draft caring for his longtime girlfriend, Lyndsey Koehler, who was diagnosed with cancer.
"He had practices and trainings and all that starting in the morning," Koehler told FOX 8 news in a 2012 story, "and he would be home every night -- drive to school every day -- to come take care of me."
Meder, again, drew inspiration from his father, who cared for Meder's mother when she was diagnosed with cancer while Jamie was in fifth grade.
"Don put (Jamie's mother) on a pedestal," Jamie Vanek, one of Meder's coaches at Valley Forge, told cleveland.com last year. "He made sure he was there for his family ... and served as a great mentor for Jamie."
Meder says Lyndsey, a special education teacher in North Ridgeville, is 100 percent healthy now. The two just purchased their first home together.
Oh, and he's playing the game he always loved near the town that raised him.
"Life's good," he said, in that understated way only Jamie Meder can.
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