BEREA, Ohio — When Malik McDowell was called on to share his story, he considered it a chance to perhaps save a teammate from the mistakes that landed him in jail.
The request came during training camp and was part of Browns coach Kevin Stefanski's 4 H's — history, heartbreak, heroes and hopes — a team-bonding exercise Stefanski borrowed from a longtime friend.
During a team meeting on Zoom held during training camp, Stefanski selected free agent defensive tackle McDowell to speak. A second-round draft pick in 2017 out of Michigan State, McDowell's life spiraled out of control after he suffered a brain injury in an ATV accident as a Seattle Seahawks rookie.
McDowell, 25, hit rock bottom in February 2019 when he got into an altercation with police and was charged with assault, resisting arrest, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. That April, police found a stolen car in McDowell's possession. He received an 11-month jail sentence in Michigan.
After lengthy talks with General Manager Andrew Berry and Stefanski, McDowell was invited to rookie minicamp even though he hadn't played football since 2016. He said he learned he had made the 53-man roster after the final preseason game in Atlanta, with defensive line coach Chris Kiffin catching him on the phone telling his mother, Joya Crowe, the news.
McDowell showed his potential in Sunday's 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in SoFi Stadium. He recorded his first career sack in the second quarter. Then with 38 seconds remaining before halftime, McDowell recovered a fumble by Chargers running back Austin Ekeler that was forced by cornerback Greedy Williams.
Those big plays whet McDowell's appetite for more.
"Yeah, I was like now they're going to start rolling in," McDowell said Wednesday. "I tasted the blood, the blood in the water, I smelt it, I got there, I actually made the play.
"Now I got my feet wet, now I know what it feels like. Now it's time to get it some more."
His teammates continue to offer support, just as they did after McDowell chronicled his rough journey this summer.