CLEVELAND, Ohio — Greg Newsome II was shocked on Day 2 of the NFL Draft when his longtime good buddy Perrion Winfrey, the defensive tackle out of Oklahoma, was still on the board at the end of Round 3.
Like he had done so many other times over the years since they played at rival high schools 10 minutes apart in Illinois, he offered Winfrey some words of encouragement.
“I texted him ‘be patient, I feel you’re going to be off the board soon,’” Newsome told cleveland.com by phone Friday on Winfrey’s first day of rookie minicamp. “I said, ‘I hope we grab you.”’
By then, Newsome already had a strong feeling Winfrey would soon be a Dawg, even though he hadn’t lobbied Browns GM Andrew Berry.
“I was like ‘we’re definitely getting him,’” Newsome said.
The moment Berry selected Winfrey 108th overall in the fourth round, Newsome texted the GM.
“I was like ‘you made the right choice,’,” Newsome said.
Minutes later, Newsome watched as Winfrey’s epic draft day press conference, complete with barks and a “I’m coming in to kill right away with my boy Myles Garrett, the best defensive end in the game” went viral on social media.
“I think I probably rewinded it and watched it at least 20 times, for sure,” Newsome said with a laugh.
It was the same Winfrey he had known and loved since high school, when Winfrey played at Lake Park in Roselle, Ill. and Newsome starred at Glenbard North in nearby Carol Stream before transferring to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for his senior season.
“It’s not an act at all,” Newsome said. “He’s literally like that all the time. On the field, off the field, if you’re having a hard day of practice, he’s going be that dude who will still bring the energy and uplift the team.”
Having faced him since high school, Newsome thought Winfrey was a lock to go late in the first round or early second.
“He’s definitely going to be the steal of the draft,” Newsome said. “He shouldn’t have gone that late, but I’m glad he came to us. I’m glad he fell a little bit so we have a chance to be on the same team.”
Even back at Lake Park, Winfrey was a nightmare to defend.
“There was no blocking him,” Newsome said. “He’s never willing to give up on a play. He’s working everybody. You literally would have to put almost three people on him in high school to block him. He was just a terrorizer down there.”
Back then, Winfrey, who played nosetackle in Oklahoma’s 3-4 front, played mostly end, but moved around.
“He wasn’t as big as he is now (6-4, 290),” Newsome said. “He was slimmer-framed”. But he dominated wherever he lined up.”
Even though they called it a rivalry, it wasn’t one in the classic sense.
“We beat them every time,” Newsome said. “It’s not really a rivalry because you’ve gotta win a few games in order for it to be a rivalry. So we’ll definitely have some fun with that.”
Despite their on-field competition, Winfrey and Newsome hung out with the same friends and bonded over their NFL dreams. When it came time for college, Newsome headed to Northwestern, and Winfrey started at Iowa Western Community College because of academics. But Newsome kept in close contact.
“I checked in on him and made sure he was good, because I knew from the jump — from playing him in high school — I was like ‘this dude is good,'” Newsome said. “I tried to get him to my high school because he was that good. He had to handle some things and take a different route, but I knew if he got a chance in Division I, he was going to make the most of it.”
During the JUCO grind, Winfrey appreciated Newsome reaching out.
“That just goes to show you how great of a person Gregory Newsome is and how loving and caring he is — what a great leader he is as well,” Winfrey told cleveland.com.
After dominating at Iowa Western, Winfrey received offers from Alabama, Baylor, Texas, LSU and Oklahoma as the country’s No. 1 JUCO prospect before settling on the Sooners.
“I was super happy for him,” Newsome said. “JUCO is a hard route, and it shows how much hard work he put in to have the option to choose whatever school you want. I knew people at Oklahoma, so I knew how Lincoln Riley was and I knew he was going to a great head coach. It was definitely cool to watch his career start there.”
While Winfrey was at Oklahoma, Newsome continued to text him. Just like in high school and at Iowa Western, he was a mauler in the middle.
“It’s just cool knowing he has that love and enthusiasm for me, because I felt the same way about him knowing that he was at Northwestern dominating the way that he was,” Winfrey told cleveland.com. “We always just supported each other throughout the years, just wanting the best for each other.”
When Newsome was drafted in the first round last year by the Browns, no one was prouder than Winfrey.
“I was ecstatic for him knowing that not many people believed that he was going to go first round,” Winfrey said. “I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do every week.”
The moment Winfrey declared for the draft, after earning 2021 second-team All-Big 12 honors for a season in which he registered 11 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble, Newsome had a feeling he’d land in The Land .
“Obviously we were looking for d-tackles,” Newsome said. “We lost two (Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell) so I knew it was a position of need.”
When the Browns made it happen, Winfrey and Newsome blew up each other’s phones.
“We were going crazy the whole night just knowing that we were finally going to be on the same team, and instead of dominating each other, we’re going to be able to dominate teams together,” Winfrey said.
Newsome agrees with Winfrey that ‘it’ll be over with’ with Winfrey joining Myles Garrett and possibly Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive line.
“Last year, you obviously saw with those two dudes,” Newsome said. “Hopefully we get JD back as well, but to add Winfrey to a front like that? Like I said last year, I don’t have to cover too long and that’s a corner’s dream. I definitely appreciate the big guys upfront and the fact that we just added more to it, I love it.”
What’s more, Newsome thinks Winfrey could be one of the best things to ever happen to Garrett, who welcomed the rookie on draft night with the tweet “JUICED UP NO COFFEE NEEDED!!!! Let’s get to work.”
“Obviously it’s great to have amazing edge rushers, but if you have a guy in the middle who wreaks havoc, (the QB) has to go around and that’s just leading them right to the best two on the edge or at least Myles as of right now,” Newsome said. “It’s definitely going to make Myles’ job a lot easier as well. He might have his best season yet as well with with a guy like that inside.””
The fact that Winfrey seized Senior Bowl MVP honors in February speaking volumes, Newsome said.
“That doesn’t happen [for a defensive tackle]‚” he said. “That shows how elite of a player he is already.”
But Newsome is eager for Winfrey to bring more fire to the defense, which has plenty of good leaders but certainly no one as loud as the rookie.
“I’m a very passionate, energetic guy, but there are some days where I need a little lift,” Newsome said. “It’s definitely great to have those people in the building at all times.”
But perhaps, Newsome surmised, such buzz isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee.
“Maybe [he fell in the draft] because of the passion that he brings,” Newsome said. “Maybe some people think it’s a bad thing or something like that. I couldn’t tell you why. But I think the rest of the 31 GMs after they see what he does for us Year 1 and for his career, I think a lot of them are going to be very upset that they passed on him for three straight rounds.”
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