The Cleveland Browns announced that they are elevating safety J.T. Hassell from the practice squad to the active roster Wednesday. The team also signed safety A.J. Howard to the practice squad. Cleveland needed safety help following the addition of veteran Morgan Burnett to the injured reserve with an achilles injury.
It is remarkable that Hassell is getting an opportunity to play at this level. He impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and dedication to special teams. The defensive back has the use of just one hand; Hassell was born with a defect that impacted his left arm. His family gives it little attention because it is not something that he is going to let impact his life.
"I think it's one of those things that they don't give it much light because it is just not something that is bothering him," Justin Worden, who worked with Hassell's mom and now serves as head coach of the Astronaut football program in Titusville, Florida, said in a lengthy feature I wrote in May.
His mother described the hand as 'like a claw, like a nub' to South Dakota State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jimmy Rogers, who recruited him out of high school.
Worden noticed elite traits in the Florida native. The type of energy with which Hassell plays reminded him of two other players that he had watched locally: Chicago Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph.
Astronaut defensive coordinator JJ Edwards had seen similar qualities in his chance to coach him.
"He moves at such a different pace. I've never seen another kid that I've been involved with or coached against that has a motor like he has," Edwards said. "If nothing else, he is one of those guys that is going to hang around on special teams until they figure out how to use him defensively. You are not going to get dudes that move at that rate that consistently. When he hits you, it is like a truck. Some guys just have a knack for blowing you up when they hit you and he is definitely one of those guys."
After having a child, Hassell decided it was in his best interest to transfer from South Dakota State to Florida Institute of Technology.
Hassell was a Harlon Hill nominee, which is awarded to the D-II College Player of the Year. He was the 2018 Gulf South Conference Player of the Year. He was named all-conference twice in his career there. All of these accolades allowed him to gain traction in the scouting world and led up to him running a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash.
Hassell played in all four of the Browns' preseason games, registering 14 tackles and a team-leading three tackles on special teams.
NFL fans are familiar with the success story of Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Like Griffin, Hassell does not want to be known for the deformity or to be treated any differently. He just wants to play football. Now, he gets to do just that at the game's highest level.