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NFL career still bright for Baldwin grad

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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

Jason Pinkston's season may have been derailed, but that doesn't mean his football career is off-track.

In fact, judging by how his first season-and-a-half went, it appears the Baldwin High School graduate could be an NFL mainstay.

Pinkston is in his second year as an offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns. His season came to an abrupt halt in October, however, when doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs.

The potential life-threatening condition, also known as a pulmonary embolism, meant no football the rest of this season.

Doctors, meanwhile, continue to search for the cause of the condition, and treat Pinkston with blood-thinning medication.

Always upbeat, Pinkston hasn't let the diagnosis bring him down, even though it means not playing the sport he loves for six months.

Pinkston, after all, understands some things are bigger than football, such as his health. Doctors told him that if he had played another game, he could have died.

While football isn't the big story with Pinkston at the moment, the portion of his life that does involve the gridiron is pretty exciting.

After a stellar college career at Pitt, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Pinkston was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Most experts projected him to be drafted much higher, and Pinkston appeared to be on a mission to prove he was a top player.

As a rookie, Pinkston was so impressive in the early going that he grabbed the starting left guard spot in training camp and never looked back, starting all 16 regular season games for the Browns.

This year, he entered the season as the incumbent and, again, was impressive through six games, even as the Browns struggled overall.

“It's a lot different than when you're a rookie,” Pinkston said when comparing seasons. “Everything is going better. I'm starting to see things a lot faster than last year. It's my second time going through a season with an offense.”

No longer being a rookie has some off-the-field benefits, too.

“We didn't have rookie hazing, but I did have to pay for a lot of things last year,” Pinkston said. “The rookies, we always would foot the bill for pizza on Fridays before the away games. I had to buy a ton of pizza for the offensive line.

“This year, we drafted a few rookies, and they're now buying the sunflower seeds, and buying the pizza.”

Pinkston's also enjoying the life of an NFL player. He purchased a house in Cleveland, and says he feels welcomed by the community.

As an NFL player, he also gets to rub elbows with other high-profile personalities — and not just football players.

During a Browns practice a few weeks ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and current Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan visited.

“It was crazy, to see them in person,” he said. “Security was crazy. I didn't know this, but Condoleezza Rice is a huge Browns fan.”

While the Browns are 2-6 overall, Pinkston is confident the team is headed in the right direction.

The team has a core of young stars and beat a talented San Diego Chargers squad, 7-6, on Sunday.

Additionally, new owner Jimmy Hasslem completed his purchase of the team last month, another reason for optimism.

“He's a really great guy,” Pinkston said. “We're excited. He really wants to bring a winner here.”

While the Browns are his football focus these days, there always will be special places in his heart for Baldwin and Pitt.

“I follow them both,” he said. “I always keep tabs on Pitt. I met Coach (Paul) Chryst in the offseason, and he's a really great guy. He's going to bring the program back to winning.

“And, of course, I always follow Baldwin.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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