BEREA, Ohio — During the three years he was stationed in Hawaii, Demetric Felton Sr. impressed upon his son the sacrifices of those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A Navy chaplain for 20 years, Felton Sr. performed ceremonies to commemorate the Dec. 7, 1941 anniversary of Japan’s surprise air assault on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. But some survivors of that day asked to be cremated and interred with their ship, and the elder Felton handled that duty as well.
When he was about 9 years old, Felton Jr., a Browns wide receiver and running back, occasionally joined his dad to witness those emotional moments. Such visits cemented the Felton family’s commitment to the military that continues to grow.
“Demetric went with me a couple times and we would talk about the history and the names of those who died,” Felton Sr. said. “He knew all about that.”
Military service runs deep in the Feltons’ blood. Felton Sr. joined the Navy at 18. He earned his bachelor’s degree, then master’s in divinity. He was based for two years in Memphis, Tennessee, moved the family to Hawaii and finished his career in San Diego, where he completed 22 years of active duty at the Marine recruiting depot. While his children were growing up, Felton Sr. was sometimes at sea for six months at a time aboard the USS Peleliu, the first ship to deploy Marines in Afghanistan after 9/11.
Felton Jr.’s sister Devonaye, 22, joined the Marine Corps out of high school, is based at Air Station Miramar and just re-upped for her second four-year tour of duty, this time as a drill instructor. Felton Sr. said Monday that his daughter Demesha, 27, was heading to the recruiting station Tuesday to join the Marines.
“Originally I wanted to go into the military, too, until football started to become more of a reality and more of a passion for me,” Felton said in a one-on-one interview with the Beacon Journal.
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Felton jumped at the chance to become one of three players who traveled to Alaska in March on an NFL-USO tour to visit U.S. troops and their families. Also participating were Denver Broncos fullback and tight end Andrew Beck and Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II.
“We had a little camp for the kids and they were able to do football drills,” Felton said. “It reminded me of being a kid on base and when football players would come how excited we would get, just how that inspired me. Being able to pay it forward was really huge for me.”
The trio flew into Fairbanks and spent a week stopping at several bases. They spent time with a K-9 unit and learned about the Space Force.
“If any foreign country was trying to send missiles, they’re in charge of identifying those targets and take them out before they reach America,” Felton said of the Space Force. “It was very fascinating to see the technology and the attention to detail that they have to have in their job. They have to stay up so long. It made me more appreciative.”
A sixth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2021, Felton learned a similar attention to detail from his father.
“I have no one to thank but my parents for that, especially my dad. He instilled in me discipline, having a good work ethic, the importance of hard work,” Felton said of his father and mother, Lennette.
Those values will be an asset as Felton tries to make the 53-man roster. His role is likely to increase after the Browns lost Pro Bowl receiver and return man Jakeem Grant Sr. to a season-ending torn Achilles on Tuesday. Felton said he’d spent the bulk of his time at receiver in training camp even before Grant was hurt.
Growing up, one phrase from his dad — “Preparation plus opportunity equals greatness” — always stuck in Felton’s mind.
“That’s something I’ve taken with me my whole football career and tried to apply that every day,” Felton said. “Even when I’m away from the football field, just any way I can stay ahead of the game by studying a lot, studying my opponents, even studying my teammates so I can have success against them on the practice field.”
Felton studies teammates’ weaknesses to excel in practice
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot who has coached in the NFL for 20 years, had never heard of a player studying his teammates.
“Coaches will do that, they’ll put guys in positions to be successful. But I’ve never heard of a player doing that, that’s kind of cool,” Priefer said Sunday.
“I’m a big Demetric fan. Demetric’s got that competitive greatness about him, the work ethic, the discipline, the come to work every day with a purpose. A lot of that has to do with how he was raised in that military environment. I’ve met his father. Great guy.”
Felton Sr. did not seem surprised by what his son is doing to prepare for practice.
“Like military, you’ve got to study your enemy. When it comes to tactical stuff, you’ve got to know your opponent, know their weaknesses and know their strengths,” the elder Felton said in a phone call Monday from his home in Temecula, California. “Military, we’re always thinking about the mission and how can we win. We always taught him that’s part of your preparation, not only knowing what you do best, but studying your opponent.”
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The Browns could also value more of what Felton’s father taught his son. Felton Sr. said he stressed accountability and integrity. When Felton started playing Pop Warner at age 7 in Hawaii, he told him team bonding, commitment and structure is key.
“He wanted to play tackle football, he didn’t want to play flag,” Felton Sr. said. “I told him, ‘Once we sign you up you can’t quit. Life gets hard. You don’t want to quit because those traits will follow you throughout your adult life. Just prepare for the opportunity and make the most of it and if you do well, you will do great things in life.’ That’s what me and his mom have instilled in all our children.”
Dad taught Demetric Felton to connect, speak from the heart
Felton Sr. also wanted his children to experience the culture in Hawaii, so Felton played football in the community, not on the base. He wanted them to be well-rounded and know how to interact with others.
“I always told them, ‘When you talk to people, make sure you look them in the eyes and tell the truth. You speak from the heart and people will receive that,’” Felton Sr. said.
That came in handy during Felton’s NFL-USO trip. While he hopes to make another such visit and would like to take part in military appreciation events in Cleveland, he made a connection with an Air Force pilot and his son while in Alaska.
“He was giving us a tour and showing us what he did and it was so interesting to me, the attention to detail and everything,” Felton said. “Afterward he was saying how his son was a huge Browns fan and he was going to bring him over to the camp. He did.
“I ended up having a great time with his son, just playing football with him. Seeing his passion for it really brought joy to me. He was 9 or 10. He had some skills for his age. I hope that I’m able to bring him out to a game somehow.”
That could be difficult. While the father and Felton followed each other on social media, the pilot was about to move to Europe.
That friendship and what Felton took from the Alaska trip was what his father expected.
“I knew he would have a good time at a USO,” Felton Sr. said. “’Go and experience that and go and give our brave men and women some joy. Just encourage them, they need that.’”
Felton surely did, leaning on his father’s advice to speak from the heart.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.