When Chase Winovich spoke to the Buchtel football team last month, he urged the players to view the new synthetic turf field the Browns had donated to the Akron school as a symbol of the belief the community has in them and an opportunity.
Winovich explained his eighth-grade guidance counselor didn’t believe in his NFL dream and suggested he reconsider his career goal.
“It was something I never forgot because every step of the way everybody told me what I couldn’t do, what I couldn’t become,” Winovich said during his speech, “and every step of the way, I used that as an opportunity to show them what I could be, what I could do.”
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Now Winovich has a new opportunity in Cleveland.
The Browns acquired him March 15 by trading linebacker Mack Wilson to the New England Patriots in a rare player-for-player swap. Both of them had reduced roles last season and are looking to bounce back in a different environment.
“You have two players that I think will benefit from a change of scenery,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said in late March during the NFL owners meetings in Palm Beach, Florida.
Winovich is bullish on how he fits with the Browns.
“In life, we’re very quick to assign things as good or bad, success or failure, this or that,” Winovich told the Beacon Journal. “But I think ultimately that removes any possibility, and the possibility is that it could be the best thing to ever happen to me.”
When the Browns begin organized team activity practices Tuesday, Winovich will be among their newcomers vying for important roles. An edge defender with the Patriots, Winovich has gained 10 to 15 pounds this offseason as he transitions to defensive end on a four-man front.
“It’s the heaviest I’ve weighed in probably three years, the strongest I’ve probably ever been,” Winovich said, “so I have a lot to be optimistic about, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’m just very thankful that the Cleveland Browns believe in me, and I certainly have been putting in the work and effort to make sure that I’m prepared come season. I’m just really fired up to be here.”
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With Pittsburgh Steelers, Michigan Wolverines ties, Chase Winovich feels at home in Browns Town
Winovich, 27, hopes to feel comfortable in a different defensive scheme. He already feels as if he belongs in Northeast Ohio.
The youngest of Anina and Peter Winovich Jr.’s four children, Chase grew up in a family of Pittsburgh Steelers fans in Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania. His older brother by 10 years, Peter Winovich III, quarterbacked at Thomas Jefferson High School and played fullback for Bowling Green State University. An annual fall routine consisted of Chase competing in youth football and attending Peter’s high school and college games in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
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An executive vice president and financial adviser at Wilcox Sports Management, Peter realized his kid brother would become a special football player when he rushed for a long touchdown and celebrated with a flip in the end zone at age 6 or 7. A year or two later, Chase began asking their dad to videotape his games so he could study the film.
In hindsight, the family had already known Chase wasn’t a typical child.
“We had this gate in the backyard, and he legitimately was like 2 years old. It was like a 4-foot, 5-foot gate. He wanted to get out of the deck area, and we actually have a video of him crawling over it,” Peter said recently by phone.
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By the time Chase had become a coveted recruit at Thomas Jefferson, Peter owned a home in Toledo, where he and his wife, Kristin, live with their three young children. Chase chose the University of Michigan partly because his brother resides only a 50-minute drive away from Ann Arbor.
In his new NFL town, Chase is between his parents in the Pittsburgh area and his brother in Toledo. The family hopes to attend many games at FirstEnergy Stadium. Peter visits Northeast Ohio often because Kristin is from Mayfield.
“Cleveland’s a great spot right in the middle for me,” Chase Winovich said. “The vibe is extremely familiar to me between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. You have the attitude of hard-working, loving people that love football. I’m really happy to be here. It feels just like home.”
Good news for Chase Winovich: Personality is welcome in Cleveland
At Michigan, Winovich became a rock star of college football. There are several stories about him hanging out with celebrities. He gained plenty of attention for labeling the Wolverines’ 2018 season the “revenge tour” and providing bulletin-board material quotes.
The outgoing personality hasn’t been on full public display since the Patriots drafted Winovich in the third round (No. 77 overall) in 2019.
The topic of the Patriots’ buttoned-down approach to media emerged when the Beacon Journal asked Winovich whether he has visualized what he and Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett can do together on the field.
“Yeah, I’ve definitely thought a lot about it,” Winovich said. “These are things that I’m kind of trained as a Patriot to not speak about but, yeah, I’ve thought a lot about what we could do together on the football field.”
Asked if he bottled up his personality the past few years in New England, assimilating to the Patriot Way, and whether he’s willing to unleash it in Cleveland, Winovich said, “See, even commenting on that, that aspect is something that it’s like it just was what it was. I’m no longer there, so it’s best of luck to them.”
Winovich should be relieved to hear Stefanski said during his introductory news conference in January 2020 “personality is welcome” but “production is required” of his players.
“I think certainly he can be more expressive than he was with the Patriots,” Peter said. “He’s his own marketer. He’s been able to build his brand, and he started that at Michigan. It’s interesting if you look at some of the stuff that he did with the ‘revenge tour’ and stuff like that, if you think about NIL [name, image and likeness] and what opportunities he could have had stemming from that.”
A few weeks ago during an interview with the Browns’ in-house radio show, Winovich volunteered stories about turning the water to cold at the end of his showers every day to receive natural jolt of energy and the delight he experiences while administering wet willies to friends.
“I think his personality is going to fit in perfectly with Browns fans,” Peter said.
Winovich said he considers himself “a perspective collector.” He majored in evolutionary anthropology at Michigan and thinks he’ll hit it off with Garrett in part because of the star player’s interest in paleontology.
Like Garrett, Winovich is obviously curious about much more than football.
“He taught my middle child how to meditate,” Peter said of his brother. “New Year’s Eve, she made us all sit down and meditate. I thought it was hilarious. She was 5 at the time. Chase has been really big on energy and centering your mental health.”
Chase Winovich believes ‘the sacks will take care of themselves’ with Browns
Winovich’s statistical production dropped last season with the Patriots. After he compiled 5½ sacks in each of his first two NFL seasons and tied for first in the league with 24 hurries in 2020, he had zero sacks in 2021.
“You look at stats and numbers to kind of validate your success or failure or shortcoming,” Winovich said, “but I know and I believe and anybody that knows me would testify to the maturity and the progress that I’ve made as a person physically, mentally, emotionally.”
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Winovich began training camp last summer on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed injury. He later missed four games on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, which he suffered when he was pushed in the back on a special teams play Oct. 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. He started nine times in his first two seasons combined, but none in 2021, when he logged just 10.5% of the defensive snaps. The Patriots made him inactive for their wild-card playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills in January.
“Without going into too much detail,” Winovich said, “there was an injury even before the season started that I was dealing with for a few months.
“There’s things in life that are in my control and things in life that are out of my control. The things that were out of my control were definitely more prevalent [last season].”
The Browns have faith Winovich can rebound. They agreed Sunday to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney as the starting defensive end opposite Garrett, but Winovich will have a chance to secure a role as a rotational pass rusher. Takk McKinley served as Cleveland’s No. 3 edge defender last season until he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon Dec. 20 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Certain people are put on this earth to do certain things, and one of the things that I was put on this earth to do is play football,” Winovich said. “And rushing the passer is something that I’d say … I do a pretty dang good job.
“Just as Bill Walsh said, the score will take care of itself. His book talks about that. It’s the same thing. I think the sacks will take care of themselves, and ultimately I’m just here to help us win.”
His opportunity awaits.
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.