ROCKY RIVER — General manager John Dorsey and coach Freddie Kitchens didn’t tell running back Kareem Hunt they were going to attend his baptism Sunday.
“Just wondering what the hell we were doing there,” Kitchens said Monday of Hunt’s reaction. “I think he was pretty surprised.”
For Kitchens, the reason he traveled to True Vine Missionary Baptist Church on Cleveland’s East Side was simple.
“We care about Kareem as a person,” he said before the Cleveland Browns Foundation golf outing at Westwood Country Club. “We went there for Kareem Hunt as the person and not the football player. The thing we did yesterday was not about football at all.”
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Hunt, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2017 for the Chiefs, was signed by the Browns in February. He was available because the Chiefs cut him Nov. 30 after a video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman at The 9. He will open the season serving an eight-game suspension from the league for that incident and an altercation at Put-in-Bay.
Hunt spoke to reporters for the first time last week, apologized again for the violence at The 9 and pledged he was a changed man who wouldn’t repeat his mistakes. The Browns continue to say he’s doing all the right things, including going to counseling and talking to high school students across the area.
“One of the truest forms of bravery is showing your scars,” Kitchens said. “You show your scars so people don’t make the same mistakes that you make. And Kareem has done an exceptional job of showing his scars out in the public and some of these schools and things he’s visited without any advertisement at all. He’s chosen to do that to sorta show his scars so maybe some of the kids in his surroundings don’t make the same mistake.”
The Browns say Hunt has been embedded inside team headquarters since he was signed. He golfed in the outing, and Kitchens said their time together has given him greater confidence Hunt is on the right track.
“Kareem’s doing a good job of just staying in the moment and continuing to strive to get better and making good choices each and every day,” Kitchens said. “I think yesterday was just another step for him to do that.”
Hunt has struck up a friendship with fellow running back Nick Chubb, who’s returning for his second season.
“He’s a very hard worker and I like to see that and the dude’s a beast,” Hunt said last week. “He’s an animal in the weight room and I’ve really got a lot of respect for him.
“He’s actually one of my closest friends on the team right now and it’s good to see a guy like that do so well because he can really go far.”
Chubb gained a lot of admirers inside the organization as a rookie. Teammate Duke Johnson nicknamed him “Old School” because of his no-nonsense approach, and that was before he patiently waited for his chance behind veteran Carlos Hyde, then rushed for 996 yards, a 5.2 average and eight touchdowns.
Kitchens said he always thought Chubb and Hunt would have a good relationship, and that Hunt will benefit from being around running backs coach Stump Mitchell, Chubb and other teammates who provide a positive influence.
“Nick Chubb’s exceptional in every aspect of his life, and anytime you can surround yourself with people that people can attract themselves to, of course, it’s to the benefit of your whole program, not to mention that room,” Kitchens said. “Nick Chubb, he’s a leader in his own way. There’s one thing I can almost promise you, that Nick Chubb will never be swayed to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. That’s who Nick Chubb is. He’s a great person. Kareem Hunt’s a great person.”
Chubb said the backs have shared information from their short but successful stints in the league.
“He’s cool, he’s a great guy,” Chubb said of Hunt last week. “I’m enjoying having him as a teammate and as a person. He keeps you laughing, keeps you up and always a high-spirited guy. And on the field he is what I saw him do when I was back in college with KC, and also last year. He makes plays and you see it.”
Chubb will open the season as the clear-cut starter but could surrender playing time to Hunt after he serves the suspension and gets comfortable. Kitchens said the coaching staff is still designing a strategy to use them both, including on the field together.
“From hearing y’all talk we don’t have enough balls (to go around), right?” he said. “I think both of them are great players in the National Football League. I don’t really know what it’s going to look like yet but we have somewhat of a plan.”