NFL football is back and no, this isn’t a story about the semi-local teams from California. This story takes us to the other side of the country, featuring the Cleveland Browns. Yes, the Cleveland Browns, a team with immediate ties to Southwest Riverside County. The Browns kicked off the 2023 NFL preseason with a 21-16 victory over the New York Jets in the Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. In that game, three former local standouts from the area were suited up for all the action donning burnt orange and brown.
Sione Takitaki (Heritage High School), Lorenzo Burns (Linfield Christian School), and Demetric Felton Jr. (Great Oak High School) have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming NFL season, which is never guaranteed, even when your name is on the team roster. NFL teams have 53-man rosters, and carry 90 players on practice squads, though every member gets treated the same by coaches, and staff, the goal is to be one of the names on the active list when the opening game pops off in Week One.
Takitaki and Felton Jr. are no strangers to getting cheered on the by Dog Pound (the bleacher section behind the east end zone of Cleveland’s stadium), and Burns, at age 25, has high hopes of getting those cheers soon enough, as he is the most recent signee to hit training camp.
Originally signed by Arizona as an undrafted free agent in 2021, Burns spent time on the Jaguars’ practice squad in 2021 and 2022 and most recently played for the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, winning back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023. He will wear No. 27 as he competes for a roster spot over the next five weeks with the Browns. According to a recent post from his father, DeChon, who played at USC during his college career, and is the current head football coach at Linfield Christian, he says all the Burns men have worn the same number at one point in their careers. Simeon Burns, a 2017 graduate from Linfield Christian, also played college football, most recently at Chowan University in 2022 as a redshirt senior.
Prior to the NFL, Lorenzo Burns, who graduated from Linfield in 2016, played five collegiate seasons, all at the University of Arizona. The coaching staff redshirted the cornerback during his freshman year, in which he saw action in just two contests due to injury. Burns played in 40 games over the next four seasons, amassing 191 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, 26 pass breakups, nine interceptions and two sacks. This past season Burns had 26 tackles in the USFL.
While he faces an uphill battle to make the Browns’ roster this summer, he has high hopes despite the fact that the team goes three-deep at cornerback before the position gets upsettingly thin.
As for Demetric Felton Jr., who carried the ball seven times for 46 yards and added two catches for 9 yards in Week One of the preseason, he says he felt like he was back at UCLA when he scored against the Jets on a 16-yard touchdown run with 6:11 left in the third quarter. A big part of it was the block quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, his former QB at UCLA, made to help him scamper into the endzone.
“It was awesome,” Felton told the media after the win. “Yeah. It felt like it did when we were back at UCLA. It was cool.”
Felton Jr., a 2018 Great Oak graduate, who was a sixth-round pick by the Browns in 2021, carried the ball 233 with the Bruins, for 1,101 yards, and was a threat in the passing game, too, with 99 career catches for 958 yards. It was part of what appealed to the Browns when they picked him. It appealed to them so much that Felton was valued as a wide receiver last season, practicing with the receiver core, and stood with them on the sideline during games. In 2021 Felton had 2 receiving touchdowns with close to 200 yards on 21 targets. Last season Felton’s number were very limited on offense, as well as special teams, playing in only 8 games.
This year, he returns to the backfield as he worked primarily at running back last Thursday, playing almost all of the second half after he came in during the first half as John Kelly Jr.’s backup. Everyone who played was either a rookie getting their first work or a veteran fighting for a job. Felton falls squarely in the latter category since he was also the primary kick and punt returner with Jakeem Grant working back from a ruptured Achilles suffered in training camp. With such versatility, it’s just another way he can work his way onto the 53-man roster.
“It’s huge for me to be able to show that I can be helpful on special teams,” Felton Jr. said. “That’s something that I’ve been trying to work a lot in the off season just to give them more trust in me.”
During the first two years of his career, it was all about the more he could do. This year it’s about getting back to his roots.
“It’s been fun being able to go back in the running back room and contribute to the team,” he said. “It’s super fun for me.”
And finally, there’s former Heritage Patriot standout player Sione Takitaki, who looks to hit the depth chart as the starting linebacker. At BYU, Takitaki finished his senior campaign with 119 tackles, 75 solo tackles, 10 for loss and 4 sacks. Following his college career, the Browns selected Takitaki with the No. 80 overall pick during the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Takitaki’s fourth year in the NFL ended prematurely when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 13 against the Houston Texans. Seven months later, the 28-year-old is preparing for another campaign and planning to make a resurgence on the field.
“I am excited,” Takitaki said on an episode of Best Podcast Available, via the team’s website. “The rehab process has been going well. I like where I am at. Just been rehabbing a ton and just trying to get back to physical form. I like where I am and feel we can make a big comeback. I am ready to help anywhere I can.”
Although Takitaki had an unfortunate ending to his season, he still played in a total of 12 games, starting in eight. During 2022, Takitaki recorded 36 solo tackles, 71 combined tackles and one quarterback hit and a forced fumble.
Despite the season-ending injury, Takitaki re-signed with Cleveland on a one-year deal in March after his rookie contract expired. Now, as he is going into his fifth year with Cleveland, Takitaki hopes to resurrect his skill set to help the Browns’ defense succeed under new leadership in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.