Nordonia football team receives a special gift from the Cleveland Browns

Akron Beacon Journal
Nordonia head coach Jeff Fox speaks before his team is presented with new helmets by representatives of the Cleveland Browns Friday at Boliantz Stadium.

Seniors on the Nordonia High School football team were surprised Friday morning at Boliantz Stadium with a gift from the Browns.

Through the HELMETS program, presented by Meijer and in association with University Hospitals and Xenith, the Browns gave Nordonia a $25,000 donation that was used to purchase 86 new Xenith football helmets.

The Browns also announced that Fairport Harding Middle School, Mansfield High School and Hudson Middle School also received between 86 and 100 new Xenith football helmets.

“I am overwhelmed by their gratitude,” Nordonia athletic director Rob Eckenrode said in regards to the Browns and other sponsors Xenith, Meijer and University Hospitals.

“The fact that the Browns are giving back to the local community is huge, and the fact that we were able to receive these helmets is great for our football program, especially given the cuts to education that have taken place recently. Having that financial support for our football program is tremendous. I can't thank the Browns, the owners, all of their front office staff and everybody that made this happen enough, especially Darrell Taylor, who is the Browns Director of Youth Football and was in charge of this project.”

Attendees wore masks and followed social distancing protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eckenrode said he applied for the grant with the Browns to receive $25,000 worth of helmets.

Nordonia received the 86 new Xenith helmets with forest green metallic paint on them Friday morning. The school will add the block “N.”

“I applied, and I didn't think anything of it,” Eckenrode said. “I was like 'They will probably get thousands of entries to win $25,000 worth of football helmets, whether it is high schools or youth football teams.' I filled out the entry on the spur of the moment, and three months later I get a call from Darrell saying we had won. I about fall out of my chair.”

The ceremony Friday morning at Boliantz Stadium included a pre-recorded audio announcement from Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.

“I think it is amazing what Cleveland Browns Youth Football does,” Nordonia football coach Jeff Fox said. “Darrell and his staff do an unbelievable job of getting resources to grow the game of football in our Northeast Ohio communities. Those of us in the game know the value of what this game brings to every kid that goes through our program. We try to use the game of football as a platform to grow servant leaders in our community. We feel like every kid that goes through our program are better young men because of them being part of the greatest team sport on Earth.”

Fox said Nordonia is set to feature 11 returning senior starters – quarterback Billy Levak, running back Sal Perrine, wide receiver Joel Jones, offensive linemen Matt Berger and Ian Davis, defensive linemen Mar'quez Hart and Josh Wujnovich, linebackers Mike Westbrooks and Geo Loya and cornerbacks Jonathan Banks and Jahdon Wimbush.

“With this donation, we are going to be able to output brand new helmets all the way down to our eighth-grade team,” Fox said. “Maybe that gives a parent or two peace of mind that they have the best technology on their kid, and a couple more families will play the great game of football. ... We won this grant and we are going to try to serve as many kids in our community with the services of football to try to develop young men.

“This gives a few more families peace of mind because they have a brand new Xenith helmet, that is one of the highest rated helmets on the market.”

Also in attendance, were Nordonia Superintendent Joe Clark, Nordonia High School Principal Casey Wright, Nordonia Middle School Principal Bryan Seward and Board of Education member Chad Lahrmer.

“We have the highest numbers we have ever had of kids wanting to play football this fall at Nordonia,” Fox said. “We expect to have 80 varsity players [in grades 10, 11 and 12], a freshman team, two whole middle school teams [of seventh and eighth graders] and five kids size teams of kids second through sixth grade.”