The buzz around Cleveland Browns rookie wide receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi continues to grow by the day.
In his first NFL preseason game on Thursday night, Sheehy-Guiseppi returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown in the Browns 30-10 win over the Washington Redskins.
The moment went viral on social media as ESPN, Bleacher Report and other major sports news outlets shared the video of Sheehy-Guiseppi’s touchdown.
According to NFL Network, Browns star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly gave his cleats to Sheehy-Guiseppi after Beckham was removed from the game.
Shawnah Sheehy, Damon’s mother and Lake Havasu resident, was on hand in Cleveland to witness her son’s thrilling start to his NFL career.
“It’s just amazing to see,” said his mother. “I was screaming and jumping up and down on my chair when we saw him break loose.”
For Sheehy-Guiseppi, this moment almost seemed impossible a year ago. But his relentless work ethic and a bit of good fortune landed him the opportunity with the Browns.
Born in Orlando, Florida, Sheehy-Guiseppi moved to Lake Havasu with his mother at a young age. He attended Lake Havasu High through his sophomore year until he moved to Traverse City, Michigan to live with his father.
Sheehy-Guiseppi, 24, originally had dreams of a career in the NBA and attended Mesa Community College to try out for the basketball team. However, he did not make the team, but instead joined the track team.
However, during his freshman season, Sheehy-Guiseppi was involved in a car crash which ended his season.
He then heard of a football tryout at Phoenix College and decided to attend, but he did not receive a call back from the coaches. However, Sheehy-Guiseppi insisted on continuing to attend the team’s workouts because while he never got a call back, he was also never told he didn’t make the team.
After impressing in workouts though out the summer, he earned a spot on the roster and eventually landed a role as the team’s return specialist.
He excelled in this role and was named an NJCAA All-American in 2016, when he led the nation in both kick return yards with 1,278 and kick return touchdowns with four.
But after Sheehy-Guiseppi completed his second year at Phoenix College, he was unable to latch on to any major NCAA Division I programs.
“He maxed out his credit cards and he was going to every college from [Interstate] 10 to I-40, all the way to Florida, trying to show them his tapes,” said his mother in an earlier interview. “But he only had one year of eligibility left and schools were hesitant to give him a scholarship.”
She explained that her son had an opportunity to play at Louisiana State University, but the special teams coach, Bradley Dale Peveto, who Damon had built a relationship with, was not retained when current Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron brought in a new staff at the start of the 2017 season.
Also, Sheehy-Guiseppi later found out he was unable to transfer because he did not have enough credits. He then decided to drop out of college.
During this time when he was not playing football, Sheehy-Guiseppi stayed in shape by working out “six to eight hours a day, six or seven days a week,” according to his mother.
While he remained consistent with his training, hopeful an opportunity would come his way, there were days where Sheehy-Guiseppi got down on himself and felt there was nothing coming his way.
But his mother was always there to lift his spirits and encourage him to keep chasing his dreams.
“He’s human, so of course there will be days like that,” his mother said. “But he has a great support system and he never gave up.”
She said she supported him in any way he needed, whether it was mentally, spiritually or financially.
In the spring while Sheehy-Guiseppi was playing flag football, he heard from a friend of a friend that the Browns were hosting a workout in Miami. He was only able to get to Miami after his mother purchased him a one-way plane ticket.
In the days leading up to the workout, Sheehy-Guiseppi researched Alonzo Highsmith, the Browns Vice President of Player Personnel, who was in attendance. However, the two had never met before.
Once he was at the entrance of the workout, Sheehy-Guiseppi convinced security to allow him to enter because he claimed he knew Highsmith.
When Sheehy-Guiseppi saw Highsmith, he immediately approached him and was given a chance to run the 40-year dash, which he ran in 4.38 seconds.
This was enough to make an impression on Highsmith, who was also impressed with Sheehy-Guiseppi’s performance in other drills and invited him to the team’s training facility for a formal workout a week later.
In the meantime, Sheehy-Guiseppi stayed in Miami and did anything he could to stay in shape before he went up to Northeast Ohio.
He spent a few nights in a rented room but eventually found himself sleeping outside of a training facility in Miami. He kept his phone charged at a local laundromat.
When the week passed and Sheehy-Guiseppi was able to relocate to a hotel outside of Cleveland, he went to work on the field and impressed the Browns enough to offer him a contract.
“I couldn’t be more happy. It’s a grind, you know what I’m saying? I wasn’t mad that I was sleeping on the beach. I wasn’t upset,” Sheehy-Guiseppi said to the Browns’ team website back in the spring. “I was happy, because I got an opportunity and that’s all I wanted.”
His journey caught the attention of the national media and Sheehy-Guiseppi was beginning to create some waves. Those waves turned to tidal waves on Thursday night after his emphatic debut.
“It’s a little overwhelming for me,” said his mother of all the attention her son has been receiving. “But he’s so poised and he’s handling it very well. I’m so proud of him, the whole family is.”
The uphill battle Sheehy-Guiseppi climbed to reach this point is nothing short of amazing. However, there is still work to be done as he is one of 11 wide receivers on the Browns’ roster.
But his speed and ability to return kicks gives him an avenue to make the final roster.
Also, Antonio Callaway, one of the receivers ahead of Sheehy-Guiseppi on the depth chart, was suspended for four games by the NFL on Friday afternoon for a drug violation.
In addition to his punt return touchdown, Sheehy-Guiseppi also caught two passes for 12 yards on four targets on Thursday night.
The Browns next preseason game is against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, August 17 at 1 p.m.