BEREA, Ohio -- When Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner looks into his locker at the Berea training facility or down toward his right forearm, he sees constant reminders of why life in the NFL was at all possible in the first place.
Whitner has several Glenville High School t-shirts hanging inside his locker and the famous Glenville "G" logo tattooed on his arm, and he gives much of the credit to his NFL success with the start he had as a Tarblooder under the direction of Coach Ted Ginn Sr.
It was that time at Glenville that prepared Whitner to embrace an opportunity to play for former coach Jim Tressel at The Ohio State University and later, become a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
"I'm very thankful," Whitner said. "It's funny because I wasn't going to attend Glenville High School when I first decided to transfer from Benedictine. I was going to go to John Hay or something. I bumped into him, and he said, 'What are you doing up here?' I was getting a physical, and then, from there, he was like, 'You know what? You're going to go to Glenville High School.' I went there for practice, for track practice, and the rest is history.
"I'm thankful. I'm very thankful that he was able to guide me, and not only me, but a bunch of other guys like Ted Ginn Jr., Pierre Woods, who played at Michigan and played for the Patriots for a long time, just a bunch of guys from the inner-city, from Glenville High School."
What Whitner has been able to do during his NFL career is be a leader, both on and off the field, first for the Buffalo Bills, then, the San Francisco 49ers, where he went to three straight NFC Championship games, and now, his hometown team, the Browns, who after six straight double-digit loss seasons, are 7-4 heading into Sunday's game at Buffalo and very much in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC.
Whitner displayed that leadership in a big way when he spoke to the players prior to their 24-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football on Nov. 6, a win that temporarily put the Browns in first place in the AFC North Division.
Instead of talking about football, Whitner spoke of his background of growing up in Cleveland without a father, who was addicted to heroin and in and out of prison while the six other children under the supervision of a single mom moved from house to house, something that sent chills down the spines of his teammates, and even brought some to tears.
"I think my time there prepared me well for being in the National Football League, dealing with different types of people, being able to lead," Whitner said. "I think it came from, first off, Ginn, then, Coach Tressel, and that's why I'm able to do what I can do."
Coming back to Cleveland and joining the Browns was something Whitner always wanted to do, and when the opportunity presented itself during free agency this past March, he jumped at the chance. Whitner came back not for money, but more because of the pride he has in being in Cleveland and getting an opportunity to help those who walk the same halls he once did.
"I'm very proud," Whitner said. "It's not only me. It's a bunch of guys. Even looking all the way back to guys like Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, there's a bunch of different guys that have been able to come up from Northeast Ohio, and I don't think it's going to be the last of the crop.
"Just understanding what a lot of those kids are going through, understanding that they want an opportunity, they just need that little push, so that's why I'm just so happy and so thankful and so willing to give back to the program."