On his own time, Browns' T.J. Carrie makes scars cool

Who:T.J. Carrie | CB, Cleveland Browns | 28 years old

What: The T.J. Carrie Foundation, dedicated to helping children achieve greatness.

Why: After having open heart surgery at the age of 15 and being told he would not be able to play competitive sports, Carrie is committed to inspiring others who were told they can't do something.

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T.J. Carrie almost always lifts his shirt up when he's talking to the kids.

He's talking about hope, after all, and so he lifts that shirt high and he shows off the long scar, the one that bleeds down the center of his chest and is impossible to miss.

Carrie was just 15 years old when doctors cut him open, to reposition a misaligned coronary artery. He wasn't supposed to play competitive sports. He definitely wasn't supposed to play in college. And he absolutely in no way was supposed to run and hit people in the National Football League.

But that's how hope works: You believe in the not-supposed-tos. And that's how scars work: They remind you of what's possible.

"A scar can change a kid's whole personality, in who they are, or their perceptions of themselves. They think it's ugly, they think it zig-zagged too much, they think it keloided over too much," Carrie said. "When I show them my scar, I'm showing them I'm not afraid of my scar."

"The goal," the Browns cornerback said, "is for them to say, 'He doesn't think his scar is ugly, I shouldn't think mine is ugly.' "

Carrie established his T.J. Carrie Foundation in 2016, just two years after the Raiders used a seventh-round draft pick on him. The charge to help had always been there, from his family. He's the fourth of five brothers, and he easily ticks off how each brother above him made his football dream possible: Reynard, a Portland State cornerback, trained him after the open-heart surgery; Eric, a New Mexico State safety, was his "manager" in keeping him organized; and Domonick, a Portland State running back, kept him apprised of who he needed to beat out at the various stages of his career.

"Because of them, all I wanted was to play football," Carrie said. "Without them pushing me, I maybe wouldn't have been able to believe I could after surgery."

He immediately recognized the platform the NFL provided. He grew up outside Oakland, in Antioch, California, and he'd go to hospitals early in his career, to visit patients, saying he knew it resonated that he was, as he put it, "homegrown." As for what motivates him to serve as a role model, he still remembers attending, as a kid, a camp held by the 49ers, when a player he believes was Jared Newberry ran around with him, and the high he had for months afterwards.

"We all need people in life that we can look to, that have been through experiences we face, or can help us get through experiences," he said. "For me, it's asking, 'How can you pay it forward in life? How can you change the outlook of someone's dreams or aspirations?' "

And so he has three points of focus in his foundation: take heart, dream big and be a pro.

The first point was obvious, and he quickly became hooked up with the Shadow Buddies Foundation, which delivers stuffed toys to pediatric hospital patients. Carrie's foundation has bought dozens and dozens of shadow buddies, with stitches across the heart, and he's personally delivered each one to a child or teen who's undergone a heart procedure. He says it's important to sit with families in a hospital, remembering his own sitting there alone with him.

Carrie has volunteered extensively with Camp Taylor in Modesto, California, a free camp specifically for children with heart disease who maybe can't run and jump like every other child. He's partnered with Playworks, a national foundation, through which he adopted a low-performing elementary school, where he brought in a Recess Hero program. With a master's in coaching education, mentorship is a key for him.

"Money has no face when it comes to giving to someone," he said. "Time, investing time in our youth is priceless, in the sense that when kids feel they're loved and they're thought about by someone other than their family, I think it goes deeper into feeling: there's someone who cares, there's someone who understands the struggle."

He says his foundation's job is to not only seed programs of its own, but to spread awareness of other programs "who are doing incredible things for kids."

Earlier this year, Carrie faced free agency and found an incredible opportunity. His parents had moved to the Cleveland area during his senior year at Ohio University, which is in Athens, Ohio, about three-and-a-half hours away by car. His wife grew up in Lorain, Ohio, roughly 30 minutes from the Browns' headquarters in Berea. When he hit free agency and the Browns were one of the first teams to call, Carrie thought he'd hit the jackpot: "We have babysitters on deck!"

It hasn't been the easiest of years in Cleveland. After the Browns struggled to just two wins in their first eight games (and after only one win in the previous two seasons), head coach Hue Jackson was let go. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was elevated to interim head coach, and the team again found itself the object of public derision. But the Browns rebounded to beat the Falcons into their bye, with Carrie forcing and recovering a key fumble in that win.

Carrie said he's working to find the right school to partner with in the Cleveland area, but he's adamant that his foundation will only grow there.

"Things that seem impossible are only impossible until someone does it," he said. "I want people to say, 'Man, he did it. So can I.' "

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