BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns tight end Devon Cajuste has discovered an outpouring of support after the emotional story of him and his father aired last week on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Fans and Browns team personnel have encouraged Cajuste. Even his Uber driver on a trip to Taco Bell thanked him for telling his story.
"I didn’t think it would get as big as it did. It was just a story I was trying to tell," said Cajuste, who is trying to make the Browns' roster. "Having so many people support me in something I have been dealing with for the most part with very, very few people in my life and now to have the world’s support on that, I can’t put words to it."
The second episode of "Hard Knocks" included the story of Cajuste and his father, Gregory. Sitting next to each other for an interview on the show, they talked about Gregory's health issues. When Devon was 13 years old, his father told him that doctors said he had only five years to live. That left Devon not wanting to do anything but stay by his dad’s side. That included not wanting to play football.
That was 12 years ago. Now Devon is fighting to win a job with the Browns. And as he battles on the field, Gregory continues to battle off it. Sometimes even to his son’s surprise.
On the episode, Devon explained that his father has had two heart attacks, a stroke, a tracheotomy and had a pacemaker installed. Gregory then tells his son he has actually now had three heart attacks, something which came as a shock to Devon.
"I tried to play it off," Devon said. "But I was like, 'What?'"
Gregory flew out to Cleveland from his home in Seaford, New York, to see his son at practice when Devon was struggling and then made the trip to East Rutherford, N.J., to see the Browns play the New York Giants in the first preseason game. And even if he couldn’t see his father, Devon knew he was there because of a simple gesture -- their whistle. Devon and Gregory have a signature whistle they use to communicate, one that each can hear distinctively even far away, such as at practice or a game.
Fans have started to emulate the Cajuste whistle, even getting so good at it that one almost fooled Devon on Thursday at the Browns' preseason game in Cleveland.
"There was a guy right behind our bench who did it," said Cajuste, whose father was not at the game. "I snapped my head and I was like ‘Did my dad surprise me?’ And the guy just pointed at me and I was like, 'hey.'"
Cajuste even joked that they may need to change up the whistle. But there is no doubt that hearing the whistle from that fan and hearing the stadium screaming for him during the game made an impact on the 25-year-old.
"There aren’t words really to describe that feeling," Cajuste said. "Just when the stadium erupted, I kind of absorbed all of that on the inside and it was probably one of the coolest moments."
The Stanford product was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 and then spent that season on the Green Bay Packers practice team after being cut by the 49ers. He has yet to make an active NFL roster in his career.
Cajuste knows that he is the one on the field who has to do the work and earn the roster spot, but he also believes he can use the support from the fans to his advantage and feed off it for the next couple weeks.
"They want me to make the team just as much as I want to make the team," Cajuste said. "It’s just kind of pulling all that support and utilizing it. I have to take that and absorb that."
Cajuste watched the episode of "Hard Knocks" by himself in the tight-end room at the Browns facility.
"I made sure I could have that space," Cajuste said. "I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I didn’t know really what they were going to utilize because there was a lot there. I still broke down when I watched it myself and I know exactly what happened."
The Cajustes both experienced the ups and downs of the episode.
"He was stoked. For him, it’s like, 'I’m on TV!'" Devon said of his dad. "And then it gets to the story and it goes in waves, but he was very excited."