Ex-Wildcat signs with Cleveland as free agent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 21, 2002


GARYVILLE – He knew he could make it, his family, friends and coaches stood behind him and now he is in Cleveland, training for a permanent position the NFL Browns.

Thomas Pittman, 22, signed with the Browns as a free agent the Sunday afternoon before the second day of the NFL draft was finished. Pittman said he knew his named wouldn’t be called in the opening selections, but was confident he would either be chosen during Sunday’s latter picks or sign as a free agent. Among the first teams calling the Pittman’s Garyville residence were the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns.

Pittman said he worked out for the Browns, had some positive talks with the team and the atmosphere in Cleveland was exceptional. Quickly, the word had been spread, that out of 13 interested teams, from Houston to New York, he had made his choice to join Cleveland.

“I’m excited, it’s an opportunity for me to move on to the next level,” said Pittman.

Under the terms of his free agent contract, Pittman will be paid for the time he spends training with the team, but is not guaranteed a place on the lineup. His performance in Cleveland will determine whether he makes the team and is offered the usual three-year contract, or if he is cut before the regular season begins.

“I’m really happy I’m getting that start, now it’s up to me,” said Pittman.

“Cleveland is basically a great place to be, not just play there. My agent thought it was a good move and my family had been behind my 110 percent.”

The support from his family has remained constant, while he travelled to play baseball in Canada for three years after graduating from East St. John High School, then made the trip down to return to football with the Florida Gators.

Pittman caught his latest flight early Thursday morning to begin the Browns’ mini camp. He will call a hotel room home for roughly two weeks, then begin the hunt for a house or apartment. Helping his transition, a handful of ex-teammates and coaches from Florida have been members of the Browns organization, and just before leaving, he learned of a few relatives who live in the area.

“I won’t have a problem adjusting. I just need to get in there and make a name for myself,” said Pittman.

“I am going to fight for a spot and hope to be an investment with the Browns as a defensive end. My number one goal is to make the team and let everything else happen from there.”

Despite only having one year of college football under his belt, it helps that one year was when he found himself in the SEC championship game and competing in the Sugar Bowl. The Cleveland coaches were also impressed by his vast knowledge of the sport and said he didn’t seem to skip a beat by leaving football for three years to play baseball.

#Before leaving for Cleveland, Gregg Duvall, one of Pittman’s previous East St. John coaches and trainer for the past few months, told him this shot at the NFL is a result of how hard he has worked, but to also continue listening and gain as much knowledge as he can.

“He told me ‘It’s a different game, with bigger and faster guys,'” said Pittman. “I just need to stay within myself and continue to work hard.”

Pittman began playing football and baseball for the Wildcats and during his senior year, then signed his intent to join Auburn’s football team.

During that same year, he entered into the draft for baseball, where the Expos selected him as their first round, 45th pick. Pittman decided to continue his baseball career on first base with the Expos and signed onto a three-year contract.

When his three years were up, he had the choice to continue with the Expos or transfer back to football. While visiting his alma mater, one of his original first picks for college, the Florida Gators, were visiting East St. John to draft another player. Pittman mentioned he would like another chance to join and the Gators granted him a scholarship to join as a freshman.