BEREA — Christian DiLauro, Green High School’s rooting interest at Browns camp, began to see an NFL run as "realistic" two years ago.
Reality was right under his nose two weeks ago. There was the top pick of the second round of the 2016 NFL draft across from him on one side. Nearby lurked the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft.
"It was my first play at right tackle with the No. 2 offense," DiLauro said. "I came in and had (Emmanuel) Ogbah lined up over top of me, and Myles (Garrett) lined up outside him."
Ogbah and Garrett normally line up on opposite sides of the D-line. DiLauro, an undrafted rookie, wasn’t expecting his best chance in camp to begin like this.
"I’m looking at both of them, and then I look at my guard, Fred Lauinia," DiLauro said. "I told Fred, ‘Hey, I might need a little help on this one.’ He looked back and said, ‘All right.’"
The moment was a reminder to DiLauro: "Remain calm. Do what you did to get here."
The journey is 15 years in the making, beginning along the Stark County-Summit County line.
Christian was a first-grader living in Springfield Township when he took to football as naturally as any kid takes to popsicles. His dad, Matt, and an uncle, Joe, had played for Springfield High School and the Toledo Rockets.
"I didn’t think it was a rough sport," DiLauro said. "It was fun. I got in a tackle football league when I was 8. I was out there with my buddies. We’d all been playing tackle football in the backyard before that anyway."
Christian was a big, athletic youngster.
"I never played offensive line until I got to college," he said. "I was an end on defense. On offense, I played all of the fun positions where you get to touch the football.
"There were plenty of times I could have tried to make a guy miss. I didn’t have many moves in my bag. I tried to run over people."
He was in seventh grade when he transferred from the Springfield school district to Green.
He emerged as a player for Green High School, imagining himself as a college tight end. He was noticed by Tim Beckman, who had been head coach at Toledo, and in 2012, when DiLauro was a Green senior, became head coach at Illinois.
Christian’s dad was a Bears fan, going back to the Ditka days, and Christian became a fan, too. He signed with Illinois and experienced "culture shock." Most of the state looked like a gigantic corn field, not like Chicago.
The other shock, after he enrolled early during what would have been the end of his senior year at Green, was getting put on the offensive line.
"I weighed 250 pounds when and I was trying to be a guard," DiLauro said. "On the first day of spring ball, I’m going against a redshirt senior, Jake Howe. We were doing one-on-ones in pass protection. He picked me up and just put me to the side. I told my dad, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work.’"
He became a starting right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and remained a starter through 2017. He broke in beside an older guard, Ted Karras, whose father was head coach at Walsh University at the time.
"Teddy is with the Patriots now," DiLauro said. "With him beside me for two years, I could go out there and let it rip."
The Fighting Illini struggled to win and made two coaching changes, from Beckman to Bill Cubit to Lovie Smith. One constant was Ohio State. The Buckeyes punished Illinois in three games DiLauro started, 55-14, 28-3 and 52-14.
Ohio State’s loaded defensive lines gave DiLauro good practice for his NFL run. He went head-to-head against Buckeyes star Joey Bosa.
"Bosa was real good with his hands," DiLauro said. "Going against him was when I realized the importance of technique. I had depended on just athleticism."
Bosa was a No. 3 overall pick in 2016, a year before the Browns drafted Garrett at No. 1. DiLauro is in for a fight just to win a roster spot as a backup, but his experiences have led to a mindset and a plan.
"At this level," he said, "everybody’s just as strong and just as fast as you. It comes down to who is smarter and more technically sound in their footwork.
"My big strategy is coming every day being consistent, knowing my assignment when I get my reps, working technique, working little things over and over until they’re ingrained."
DiLauro made it through the "butterflies" of his pro debut, Thursday against the Giants. Now he is in for three weeks that promise to be both thrilling and pressure-packed, leading to Sept. 1, when the Browns must trim their roster to the regular-season limit.
"You get an idea where you stand," he said, "but they’re constantly moving guys around, trying to find the best five for the starters and after that finding the next best three or four or whatever they’re going to keep."
It has been a while since DiLauro lined up at tight end and even wide receiver for the Green Bulldogs. Now he stands a shade under 6-foot-6, weighs 305 pounds, and is bucking for a job for which the minimum wage for 2018 rookies is $480,000.
"You have to trust that you’re strong enough and quick enough to block these guys who are freaks on the defensive line," he said. "You have to stick to what works best for you, and not try to change too much, because the minute you do, that’s when things can go bad."
It’s crowded in Berea. Offensive linemen sure to make he team include Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler, Austin Corbett, JC Tretter and Chris Hubbard. Former Browns draft picks Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango have starting experience, and new Brown Greg Robinson is a former No. 2 overall draft pick. Desmond Harrison, Austin Reiter, Avery Gennessy, Geoff Gray, Kevin Bowen, Anthony Fabiano and Lauinia are in the scrum for spots.
Is making the team realistic for the undrafted rookie from Green?
"If you can go out there and block Ogbah and Myles," DiLauro said, "it gives you that confidence of, whoever lines up across from me, you have a chance."