Carolina Panthers

Why Panthers WR Ted Ginn Jr. doesn’t want to let anyone down, on the field or off

In Glenville, Ohio, the hometown of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19), trouble can be hard to avoid. He’s an example for the kids in town of someone to avoided it and made it to the NFL.
In Glenville, Ohio, the hometown of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19), trouble can be hard to avoid. He’s an example for the kids in town of someone to avoided it and made it to the NFL. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.’s two younger cousins had a plan for making it out of their hometown of Glenville, Ohio, just like Ginn did.

Teammates on the same storied Glenville High Tarblooders football team led by Ginn’s father, they were part of the same program they watched growing up. It’s the one that got their older cousin first to Ohio State, then to the NFL.

They were supposed to graduate on the same day in May, then move on from Glenville, a high-crime neighborhood in East Cleveland, to play college football this fall.

One is doing that, at Fordham.

The other is dead.

  

Everybody in Glenville watches Ginn.

He is the biggest success story in his hometown. Son of Glenville High’s famous coach, Ted Ginn Sr., he is a physical manifestation of the efforts of the man who built a lifeline out of Glenville.

His father developed The Ginn Academy in 2007, and the football training program has gotten more than 100 at-risk, inner-city players to college, including a pipeline to Ohio State.

So many in Glenville believe in Ginn Jr., in his example, and Ginn Jr. pours that love right back into them. Tuesday, on the Panthers’ day off, he went home to Ohio and handed out Thanksgiving turkeys.

“Ted is a person who has different levels, in my opinion. He’s an unbelievable teammate, unbelievable person,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says. “He’s a major advocate of trying to make change in the community, no matter what it is. I look up to people like that.”

That responsibility is why Ginn battles back when dramatic shifts occur, on the field or in his life. If he doesn’t, who will those kids watch? Who will show them they can change their circumstance?

  

When asked about his son, Ginn’s father is a coach through and through. He rattles off Ginn’s high school measurables in a voice raspy from almost 40 years of booming across the field at his players.

He had to repeat one of them twice, because it seems so incongruous for one of the NFL’s fastest players.

[Ted Ginn Jr.] is a loveable dude and he loves hard. Probably to a fault. He cares so much. When things don’t go well, and he gets misunderstood, it breaks him up real bad.

Ted Ginn Sr.

“He ran a 5.1-second 40 as a freshman,” he says. “Yes, he did.”

He laughs for a moment, but the laugh funnels into solemn self-admittance: Ginn Sr. says he’s probably his son’s biggest critic.

But, he adds, it’s for a reason. There are a lot of eyes on his son back in Glenville.

“Coming from where we come from and the children that I deal with in the state of Ohio and in the Glenville area, you always have to know that’s who you represent,” he says.

  

Ted Ginn Jr. doesn’t gloss over the topic, but he isn’t exactly comfortable dwelling on the day Diamond Russell was shot.

“Got caught up,” he muttered, looking down at the recliner in which he sat after a Carolina Panthers practice last week. “Wrong place, wrong time.”

I got to one (cousin). And I was getting to the other one. But I couldn’t.

Ted Ginn Jr.

According to court documents and news reports on the incident, Russell was shot in late May at a gas station in Glenville. Two suspects, one 22 and the other 19, were arrested later that week. They have been indicted for aggravated murder and are being held on $1 million bond.

Neither suspect knew Russell, 19, who was set to play football at a Kansas junior college this fall. He was killed with his high school graduation four days away.

“It’s not my first time seeing a guy, 18, 19 years old get killed,” Ginn Jr. says. “It’s just now it hit home.”

  

Ted Ginn Jr.’s career has been a rattling, screw-popping roller coaster of highs and lows.

He was drafted ninth overall by Miami in 2007, where he had 128 catches for 1,664 yards in three seasons before being traded to San Francisco.

He spent three seasons with the 49ers, totaling only 33 catches there.

In his final season with San Francisco, in 2012, his father had pancreatic cancer – Ginn Jr. says he was “on his deathbed.” Then the 49ers went on a Super Bowl run with Ginn Jr. essentially watching from the bench.

The Panthers signed him as a reclamation project for the 2013 season, and he had his most productive season since 2008, totaling 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns.

It is when Ted Ginn Jr. talks about his cousins that the weight he carries among those in Glenville seems unbearably heavy.

That earned him a $9.7 million, three-year deal with Arizona – where he fell back to 14 catches for 190 yards after admittedly chasing the money to sign with the Cardinals. He was cut by the team after one season.

The Panthers brought him back in 2015, and he had his breakout year at age 30. After his fifth team change in nine NFL seasons, he had 44 catches for 739 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns.

Being back in Carolina after the bad experience in Arizona in 2014 has refreshed him, his father said.

“He’s a good dude,” Ginn Sr. says. “He’s a loveable dude and he loves hard. Probably to a fault. He cares so much. When things don’t go well, and he gets misunderstood, it breaks him up real bad.

“He’s been to several places. And he’s going to be loyal to wherever he’s at. He feels if someone doesn’t believe in him, that kills him.”

  

Jeff Ginn has always believed in his older cousin.

Only 9 years old when Ginn Jr.’s football prowess earned him national attention as a high school senior, Jeff followed a similar path, using football and The Ginn Academy to earn a college scholarship at Fordham, where he enrolled in the fall. He’s an athlete who plays both ways, even in college.

Diamond Russell, also a two-way athlete, wore No. 19 just like Ted Ginn Jr. But he didn’t follow Ginn’s lead in the same way Jeff Ginn did.

“I’ve always looked up to him, probably more like an uncle than a cousin,” he says. “He always gives me advice and it’s been pretty cool growing up. He’s showed me a lot of things most kids didn’t get to see. Just going to games and hearing stories that he’s told about football.

“It was really great growing up watching him.”

Jeff also sees the immense pressure Ginn Jr. felt as a role model, and how hyper-aware he is of that role.

“I bet it’s hard,” he says. “But at the same time, that’s a great position to be in. Look where you’ve been! Just knowing you’re providing hope for so many; for a whole community. A city. A state. There are people that look at him like, ‘Wow, I want to get there.”

  

Diamond Russell, also a two-way athlete, wore No. 19 just like Ginn Jr. But he didn’t follow Ginn’s lead in the same way Jeff did.

“I always was a big talker to Diamond,” Ginn Jr. said. “I always talked to him, talked to him. But to Jeff, I’ve always been the ‘see how I’m doing this’ guy.”

It is when Ginn Jr. talks about his cousins that the weight he carries among those in Glenville seems unbearably heavy.

“To see it both ways, now, I mean … one is here and one is not,” he says. “So now I try to lead more by example. Doing it over saying it. If I don’t do that, how do the little kids at The Ginn Academy see it, if I don’t lead by example?”

For that reason, Ginn says, he carries himself with others in mind.

“We’re just trying to save a life, any way we can,” he says. “And sometimes, with me being on the tube (for them to see), that’s the way I save a life back home if I can.”

Sometimes, it’s not enough.

“I got to one (cousin). And I was getting to the other one. But I couldn’t.”

His voice trails off.

“It didn’t work out.”

  

Comparatively, Ginn Jr.’s ability to handle hairpin turns on the field is trivial. But even there, through the ups and downs, everybody is watching No. 19.

Two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Rams, Ginn Jr. let a punt bounce instead of fielding it, allowing it to go for 75 yards. “That’s so Ted Ginn,” was the eye-rolling pulse on social media.

An hour later, Ginn recovered an onside kick attempt by the Rams that staved off a near-comeback.

Then, on a Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints, he was in the spotlight again.

After stretching for an apparent touchdown on a reverse in the first quarter against the Saints, the play was overturned on review, marked down at the 1. The Panthers eventually had to settle for a field goal, and the crowd’s collective annoyance was palpable.

But his father, in the stands, saw an opportunity.

With everyone watching the Panthers’ No. 19, the pressure’s on. But through everything, Ted Ginn Jr. knows he must persevere.

“He got to redeem himself,” Ted Ginn Sr. says. “He thought he should have scored. He felt like he let the team down – see, I know him. So what you have to do with Ted is come right back to him.”

Newton did.

In the final minute of the first half, he fired a 40-yard pass to Ginn Jr. down the seam. Ginn dusted two defensive backs and a linebacker on his route, caught the ball, got one foot down ... then a drag of the back foot.

After a lengthy review, with the crowd holding its breath …

Touchdown for No. 19.

  

Jeff Ginn wore No. 7 at Glenville High, but switched to No. 19 at Fordham – to honor Russell.

If he gets to the NFL – his dream is to play in the league before his cousin retires – that’s the number he’ll wear.

He and Ginn Jr., as well as many former Tarblooders, use a hashtag on Twitter: #LL19.

It stands for “Long Live 19.”

With everyone watching the Panthers’ No. 19, the pressure’s on. But through everything, Ted Ginn Jr. knows he must persevere.

For Glenville. For Diamond Russell. And for the Tarblooders’ next No. 19, no matter what number he wears.

“When you’re the example of hope, that’s hard,” Ted Ginn Sr. says. “That’s something I have put on him. Maybe it’s not fair, but there it is. So you need to shake that off and keep going.

“You represent some kids that would lose hope.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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