BEREA, Ohio -- New Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joel Bitonio has toughness in his family background, and that is exactly what he plans to bring to the team when he reports for the offseason program next week.
The son of a late mixed martial arts fighter, Bitonio knows that toughness is always at a premium in the physical AFC North Division.
"I like to play hard," Bitonio, the No. 35 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, said in a conference call with the Cleveland media. "I think part of football is playing to the whistle and playing as hard as you can every snap. If you can play that hard every play, then, there's a good chance that if you're uniquely talented or use your technique, you're going to beat the guy you're going against.
"Since I've stepped on a college campus, I've decided that I'm going to play as hard as I possibly can, and I know the AFC North is a tough, hard-nosed division. Hopefully, I can bring a little bit of that to the team.
"I think I'm going to come in and compete as hard as I can and do whatever the team needs me to do. If they want me to start, I'm going to go out there, compete and be ready to go. It depends on what the team needs and what the situation is. I'm excited to get up to Cleveland and get ready to go."
According to Bitonio, it was his father, Mike, who showed him the importance of toughness.
"Back in the day, he was involved in the original type of MMA, bare-knuckle brawling and stuff like that," Bitonio recalled. "He had a few big fights, but he kind of got out of it before the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) became popular.
"He was tough as nails. He was just a hard worker, tough. His day job was carpeting and flooring install, and he was just a tough guy. He always told me, 'Be mentally tough. Be physically tough. No one's going to be able to outwork you,' and I think I bring those traits to the football field, to the weight room, to the classroom. He was a huge inspiration in the way I play and just my attitude on the field."
And while Bitonio will always credit his father for instilling the importance of toughness within him, he looks forward to working with his new mentor, seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.
"Following professional football, I know he's one of the best linemen in the NFL," Bitonio said. "Just having someone like that is going to be a great benefit to have a mentor, on and off the field.
"Just watching him play on an everyday basis, being able to watch practice film and see what he does is, I think that's a great way to learn, as a player. To see that and be able to learn from him will be an amazing opportunity."