Monday, October 24, 2016

Take it from Joe: 'Pride of Parma' can play

Rooting for the Cleveland Indians is a natural for Jamie Meder, and the 'Pride of Parma' is living the dream as one of the Browns' bright spots.

By Steve Doerschuk

October 22, 2016

Jamie Meder works at 76 Lou Groza Blvd., six miles from where he went to high school.

It's all northeast Ohio for him in the Battle of Ohio.

Playing nose tackle for the Browns really is Meder's dream job.

He is a feel-good story in a feel-bad season, a good-natured, hard-working, underdog of a battler who has made himself good enough to maybe be around if the good times ever roll.

"Of course," Meder says when asked if he is fired up about the Indians, who are in the World Series for the first time since he was in first grade.

He never saw himself working in the shadow of the Bob Feller statue.

"I played baseball," he said after a practice for today's game at Cincinnati. "I was not a good baseball player."

His father played football at Bowling Green and Baldwin-Wallace and coached him from an early age.

"I think I get my toughness from my dad," Meder said. "It starts with him. Getting beat up on by my older brother always helped (he laughed).

"I always dreamed of being in the NFL. The Browns were always my team. I was born in '91, so I only heard people talk about the old days and the playoff teams."

"I was 8 when the team came back in '99."

Meder's sports talent was in the brawling line. He wrestled. He boxed. He played well enough at Parma Valley Forge (his number is retired) that he could have been a defensive lineman at just about any college.

His grades needed work. Ashland head coach Lee Owens thought Meder could be dominant in NCAA Division II and helped him get his books in order at Cuyahoga Community College, a short walk from Valley Forge.

"It was evident very early at Ashland that Jamie was going to be a very good player for us," Owens said.

Meder became a four-year star who was — and is — well liked in Ashland. When he makes a play, people walking around campus hear cheering coming from the dorms, where TV ratings for Browns games were never better.

Meder is well liked in Berea 76, as well.

"You want to talk about Jamie? The pride of Parma?"

The speaker was left tackle Joe Thomas, who has observed Meder on the other side of the Browns' line since November of 2014.

Meder's first NFL camp was in Baltimore, where he arrived undrafted in 2014 and made the practice squad. The Ravens released him that November. The Browns put him on their practice squad the next day. He was promoted to the active roster in time to play in the season finale, at Baltimore.

In 2016, Meder played in all 16 games in the defensive line rotation.

"Jamie has proven he can play at a high level," then-head coach Mike Pettine said last year. "If you had to vote for our most improved player, Jamie would be in that discussion."

He proved himself to a new staff in the spring. His role has expanded. In the most recent game, at Tennessee, he played 43 snaps, the same number as 2015 first-round pick Danny Shelton.

"The first thing you notice is his all-out effort," said Thomas, the nine time Pro Bowler. "He's relentless. He keeps improving. He shows a lot of football savvy and smarts."

Meder and guard John Greco constitute the Browns' fraternity of former northeast Ohio high school football players.

"We talk about that," said Greco, from Boardman. "It's good to see him doing well. When he first got here, he was more of just a power guy, but he's added to his game. He can use power and moves now."

At 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Meder has been a factor in an improved run defense. He can move around on the defensive line and has sharpened himself against all of the Browns' offensive linemen.

"He can bull rush just about anybody," right tackle Austin Pasztor said. "But he's also really good with his hands, which makes him tricky to block."

Meder, 25, assumes nothing about his NFL future, other than he must pour himself into his work in order to keep it. Sometimes he has to pinch himself to remember that playing for the team he loves is reality.

"There's a little bit of that," he said. "I'm doing something people dream of doing. But … you're here. You've got to take it professionally."

Meder is a survivor, one of only two defensive players acquired in 2014 who are still on the roster.

His family and his buddies from Parma and Ashland keep him honest. They are his biggest fans and toughest critics.

The NFL pays well. Recently, he bought a house in Brunswick, a short highway drive from the team complex in Berea.

He enjoys being able to maintain "those everlasting friendships you built with kids you played with in the back yard."

"Eventually," he said, "I'm going to be working with them again."

He majored in criminal justice at Ashland.

"I thought I wanted to be a cop," he said. "I'm not sure now ... I might go into coaching. We'll see where I'm at."

For now, he is in the middle of the Browns defensive line, wearing No. 98.

"Life hasn't changed too much," he said with a smile. "I'm able to eat at nicer restaurants."

Browns fans are starving for a winner. A lot of people are rooting for Meder to be at the table when it happens.

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