Big Red pride: JC Tretter's path to NFL went through Cornell

BEREA, Ohio -- JC Tretter made one visit to a college as a high school senior and decided he didn't need to make any more.

Cornell, the Ivy League school some 120 miles up Interstate 90 and Route 96 from his hometown of Batavia, New York, was where he wanted to be.

He signed before Thanksgiving of his senior year of high school.

"I had family that had gone there; I had a sister there," Tretter said Wednesday at Cleveland Browns training camp. "They were my No. 1 choice. I knew I wanted to get a great education. That way, I knew I was set up for life whether the NFL materialized or not."

Tretter admits he has not followed the most typical path to the NFL. In the league's history, 39 players from Cornell have played in the league; 15 were drafted. Offensive lineman Tex Coulter was the highest drafted; he was taken seventh overall in 1947 by the Giants. He started 35 games in six seasons in New York.

The most notable player from the Big Red was Heisman Trophy winner Ed Marinaro, taken in the second round by the Vikings in 1972. He rushed for 1,319 yards in his career.

Tretter was taken in the fourth round by Green Bay in 2013, making him the fourth-highest-drafted player in terms of draft slot out of the college with the idyllic setting in Ithaca, New York. Defensive lineman Seth Payne was taken nine slots ahead of Tretter by Jacksonville in 1997.

Tretter, though, never wavered in his belief that one day he would play in the NFL.

"I wanted to be an NFL tight end when I was playing tight end," he said. "I moved to left tackle, and I wanted to be an NFL offensive lineman."

Tretter said he played in front of 5,000-to-7,000 people at home games at Schoellkopf Field, which has its own interesting tale. A good deal of the funding for the field was provided by Willard Straight, a 1901 graduate. He insisted the field be named after Henry Schoellkopf, who, it is said, once dove 70 feet into a gorge pool to rescue a drowning dog, per the Big Red's website.

The original field was dedicated in 1915, and on the day of the first game all campus activity ceased at noon so that 6,000 could march across campus behind the school's president to the new field. That was the largest gathering ever in Ithaca to that point in time. Schoellkopf's upgraded crescent stands now seat 25,597.

"It's not LSU, it's not Auburn or Alabama," Tretter said. "It's a quieter atmosphere, but the thing I loved about it was everybody who's there isn't on scholarship. They're there playing because they loved playing football."

There is one previous connection from Cornell to Cleveland football. Big Red receiver Kirk Hershey was a draft pick of the Cleveland Rams in the 17th round in 1941. His career in Cleveland consisted of two games and no catches. But his signing was announced in the Cornell Daily Sun.

Tretter is part of a team that has a heavier-than-usual Ivy League influence, from the front office to the roster -- including vice president of football operations Sashi Brown (Harvard Law School), chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta (Harvard) and vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry (Harvard) in the front office and Desmond Bryant (Harvard), Seth DeValve (Princeton), Anthony Fabiano (Harvard) and Tretter on the field.

Another Browns connection to Cornell is a little more obscure. Matt Miller was a backup offensive lineman for the Browns from 1979-82, the era of the Kardiac Kids. He now is a professor in Cornell's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His bio highlights a study he had published in 2014 titled "Understanding local deformation in metallic polycrystals using high energy X-rays and finite elements" in the journal Cement and Concrete Research.

Tretter majored in industrial labor relations.

"Originally I was thinking about pre-law," he said. "A lot depends on how long I play. If I get bored, I'll decide to go back to school."

Tretter goes by JC because he is named Joseph Carl. However, he decided early in life that using two periods would eat up a lot of time. So he whittled it down to JC.

He was signed on the first day of free agency by the Browns to take over at center. His ability has never been questioned, but his career has been set back by injury. He missed 31 games in four seasons with the Packers to various knee and leg injuries. His strengths are his athleticism on the line and his ability to make the line calls.

"It's kind of Alex Mack-esque in his knowledge of the game, knowing football and those types of things," guard Joel Bitonio said.

That's high praise in the Browns' world.

"I think everybody takes pride in it who makes it out of the Ivy League," Tretter said.