How a trip to Budapest helped lead Austin Hooper to Cleveland

A pair of former Browns tight ends helped recruit Hooper

Daryl Ruiter
March 24, 2020 - 1:36 pm
Austin Hooper has agreed to a contract with the Cleveland Browns

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – A humanitarian trip to Budapest, Hungary helped convince Austin Hooper to sign with the Browns.

Hooper was among 19 current and former players to team up with Gary Barnidge’s foundation, American Football Without Barriers, for its eighth annual trip overseas where they held multiple football camps and engaged in other philanthropic efforts.

“It was good being overseas with them for a week,” Hooper said.

During the February trip, Barnidge along with Jordan Cameron convinced Hooper Cleveland would be a perfect fit for him when free agency began.

“They spoke of the fan base and the city itself,” Hooper said. “They sold me on the idea before legal tampering even occurred and the time the Browns and I were able to actually speak.”

Hooper agreed to a four year, $42 million with $23 million guaranteed deal on March 18, shortly after the legal tampering window opened.

Barnidge, who played for the Browns from 2013-2016 made the Pro Bowl in 2015. He caught 160 passes for 1,938 yards and 13 touchdowns over the four years he spent in Cleveland. Cameron played for the Browns from 2011-2014 and he made the Pro Bowl in 2013 after catching 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.

Both explained the lasting effect the city of Cleveland left on them despite the franchise’s struggles on the field.

“The fan base and the culture, that’s what they preached the most,” Hooper said. “They said how much they enjoyed their time playing there. Obviously, they would’ve liked to have won a couple more games during their time there, but they aid the fan base and city is just so fully immersed in the Cleveland Browns and just so tied int to the Cleveland Browns.  

“They both were like that was the best football experience from a fan and community perspective they both have had. That was something that really stood out to me.”

Hooper was able to return to the states just in time as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the globe and he felt fortunate to be home.

“We were one of the last flights out of Amsterdam,” Hooper said.

“While we were over here still thinking, ‘Oh this is the common cold or something,’ for the people of Europe, it was a very escalated situation already over there. It kind of prepped us for what was going to come. It was a very very unique situation.”

Cameron and Barnidge weren’t the only former Browns to impact Hooper’s career.

Hooper credits former Browns offensive coordinator and current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his offensive coordinator his rookie season with the Falcons in 2015, with helping him quickly develop as a player.

“He kind of laid the foundation of my football education in a sense,” Hooper said. “There’s numerous things I learned from him.

“He taught me how to be a better professional, how to study, how to really take notes, how to be a consummate professional. There are a lot of great things he taught me on the field in terms of the outside zone scheme and route-running fundamentals. The foundation he laid for me just in terms of being a professional stands above all of it.”

Aside from the recruiting pitch made by Barnidge and Cameron, Hooper already knew what the Browns had on the roster from an offensive standpoint.

It could be argued that sealed the deal, besides the hefty contract he received.

“It was way too exciting of an opportunity to pass up,” Hooper said.