In an exclusive interview, Cleveland Browns linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk provides insight into his path to this point, including the uncertainty just this past offseason. Kunaszyk also discusses what he believes is keeping him in the league and his hopes for the 2023 season.
At the request of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Cleveland Browns linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk found himself standing in front of the defense just after the conclusion of the team's first organized team practice in May.
Kunaszyk was opening up about his personal life, his football journey and experience in the National Football League, something he wasn't expecting.
Schwartz is honoring players who are doing things the right way. What does that exactly mean? He's identifying players who are taking care of their business in meetings, on the field and just simply around the building.
The recognition for Kunaszyk didn't end with his speech to the team.
Kunaszyk was in the weight room before practice the next day, where he always goes to do some activation drills and warm up on his own. Nothing was out of the ordinary for him, until a teammate walked up to him and told him that coach Schwartz was wearing his jersey out at practice.
"For me, it's not like he wore Myles Garrett's jersey or Denzel Ward's jersey," Kunaszyk said. "I think he set the stage of like man, I don't really care what status you are. You can be getting paid $100 million or you can be on the veteran minimum deal. I'm going to recognize people who are doing things the way in which we want them done. It was really cool and I think it set a good stage for the rest of the team like okay, they actually value these things because sometimes it seems like it's pillow talk in a way."
Putting in the work and doing things the right way are nothing new for Kunaszyk. Rather this has been a staple to his personality and game for his entire football career.
Kunaszyk has started at the bottom of just about every single football roster he has ever been on and without his drive, there's no telling where he would be right now.
Out of high school, Kunaszyk had zero scholarship offers to play collegiate football. In fact, during his freshman year of high school, there were games where Kunaszyk didn't even see the field.
Kunaszyk ended up going to American River College to play junior college football. However, seeing the field wasn't a simple task. When he got there, Kunaszyk was the last linebacker listed on the depth chart and an unfortunate injury early in his freshman season resulted in Kunaszyk taking a medical redshirt year.
"Going that route [junior college], it doesn't really matter where you start, but it matters what you are doing along the process to get to where you desire to be," Kunaszyk said.
In his first and only full season at American River College, Kunaszyk tallied 118 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3 sacks in 11 games. After the season, Kunaszyk had a new opportunity waiting for him.
Kunaszyk earned a scholarship to play for the California Golden Bears. Like at American River College, he found himself right back on the bottom of the depth chart at linebacker.
Through continuous hard work and extreme focus, Kunaszyk ultimately earned the starting linebacker job at Cal, where he didn't disappoint.
Kunaszyk finished a decorative career at California with all of the accolades, including All-Conference and All-American in addition to phenomenal stat lines.
Even with a full resume, Kunaszyk still went undrafted.
Back to the bottom.
"I'm not the most talented person, I'm not the biggest, I'm not the fastest, I'm not the strongest, things don't always come easy to me but what I do is I work hard," Kunaszyk said. "I put my head down, I'm diligent in my work, in my studies and over time things end up working out."
Since being in the NFL, Kunaszyk has seen it all. From signing with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent, to making their 53-man roster, to being cut the following season, to being on the streets just praying for another chance, to signing with Washington's practice squad, the list goes on.
In Cleveland, Kunaszyk was signed during training camp last offseason, which is always an uphill battle for a bubble player to make the roster. But the trend continued for Kunaszyk, who made the initial 53-man roster.
"Cleveland calls in training camp and I make the initial 53-man roster, which I wasn't supposed to make, I was really coming in as a camp body. But by God's grace, I ended up playing really well."
But as many know, in the NFL, you can never get too high because things are changing every second. Just a week later, Kunaszyk was cut from the Browns and ultimately signed back to the practice squad.
Something that Kunaszyk has never had in his NFL career has been consistency. Bouncing around teams has been hard for him as everything is consistency changing and there's never really time for him to settle down.
Forget football, Kunaszyk is a 26-year-old who is seemingly moving around at the ring of a telephone. As anyone can imagine, it's stressful, taking a toll.
Early on in his career, Kunaszyk's entire identity was football. Whatever happened in his football journey dictated whether he was happy, sad, angry or joyful.
"It wasn't until 2019 when God saved me and I gave my life to Jesus that my identity switched from football to who I am in Christ. Now that whatever happens along my journey I could rest in the fact that God is good and I'm grateful for everything that I have in my life."
Being a player who is frequently on the bubble, change is inevitable. This offseason, Kunaszyk had an opportunity that he had never experienced before - free agency.
"I knew that I was going to get another opportunity but I didn't know where that opportunity was going to be," Kunaszyk said. So it was really stressful because I began to think okay what if I got two of the same offers, which one do I choose? Like I don't know what I'm going to do and I was very stressed out where last year before I was in Cleveland, and I got cut from Washington and I was on the streets, I didn't even know if I was going to get another opportunity in the NFL."
General manager Andrew Berry told Kunaszyk in his exit meeting that the team was open to signing him back. But Kunaszyk wanted the best opportunity for him, like any player would. He and his agent got several calls from different teams and ultimately decided that Cleveland was the best option after a long and patient process.
"I really wasn't sure if I was going to be back in Cleveland to be honest. I loved it here, it was probably my favorite organization that I've been apart of just in terms of the relationships that have cultivated and how things are run here and the way that they take care of us. It's really first class organization as far as I can tell."
Once former special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was let go by the Browns earlier this offseason, Kunaszyk admitted that he thought his time in Cleveland might be done. New coaches means change for NFL teams all throughout the organization, from the roster to the front office.
In Kunaszyk's favor, Bubba Ventrone came in as the new special teams coordinator and fell in love with his film. Ventrone expressed his love for Kunaszyk not only to him but to the organization as well.
Ventrone, a former special teams ace himself for the Browns, has quickly earned the respect of the locker room.
"It really matters a lot just to have a coach who has been there and has done that and a coach who has been in a similar situation as me," Kunaszyk said. "Bubba wasn't somebody who was a first-round pick. He was somebody who was undrafted and somebody who made his living playing special teams. A coach who's been in the NFL and has established a solid career for himself, it just adds a different dimension to what he says sometimes."
"He's humble, you can tell that he knows exactly what he's doing, he's confident, he's a hard-worker, he's somebody that commands respect and he's a coach that people really do respect," Kunaszyk said.
Special teams has been a staple to Kunaszyk's success in the NFL. Players who are not at the top of the depth chart must be able to provide to the special teams in addition to their main position.
For Kunaszyk, special teams has been one of the main reasons he has been able to have a career in the NFL. When Kunaszyk first came into the NFL, he admitted that is was difficult to adjust.
"It was a new game for me," Kunaszyk explained. "I've labored and I've studied film and I've worked on my craft and just worked on so many things in my game relating to special teams. It's beginning to pay off. I'm beginning to see results that I've always aspired to have when it came to playing special teams. I genuinely love playing special teams. It is fun."
Kunaszyk doesn't have anything specific that he wishes to accomplish in 2023. But one thing about him is that he will put his head down and work hard every day. For Kunaszyk, he understands that results will come as long as he is doing it the right way.
"Ideal 2023 for me just looks like me just doing the best that I can every single day, being the best player that I can be, impacting my teammates in a positive manner and living my life devoted to Jesus and honoring him on the field in everything that I do," Kunaszyk said.