BEREA: Frostee Rucker blasted James Brown’s “The Payback” in the locker room Thursday after practice. It’s a fitting choice for a player preparing to face his former team.
Rucker, the Browns’ starting right defensive end and unofficial disc jockey, spent the past six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and insists he harbors no ill will toward the organization. Still, coming back to Paul Brown Stadium and showing Cincinnati what it’s missing would be sweet for Rucker.
He’ll get his first chance when the Browns (0-1) visit the Bengals (0-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“The guys in Cincinnati know how I play,” said Rucker, who will serve as a game captain. “Obviously there’s nothing dirty about the way I play football. It’s just really high spirited, high energy and really physical. They’ve got a good group over there, and we’ve got a great group over here. We’re gonna get after it.”
Desperate for a run-stopping presence and leader on their defensive line, the Browns targeted Rucker in free agency. He joined the franchise in March by signing a five-year, $21 million contract.
Rucker, a California native who has spent his entire NFL career in Ohio, has meshed well with the Browns from the start.
“More than anything else, he’s a great locker-room DJ,” strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said. “He brings a good mix. He’s got a little bit of that Orange County in him, so I even heard him play the Cranberries last week, which was like a breath of fresh air. But he’s a fun guy to have around. He’s a good leader. He’s a good solid, veteran presence on that D-line, and he’s just fit in right away.”
Between the lockers of Rucker and defensive end Juqua Parker, there’s a space occupied by a large speaker that’s connected to a laptop. The setup is essential for Rucker because music is in his blood. It even helped to form his identity.
“My dad was a DJ,” said Rucker, who turns 29 today. “That’s how I got my name. My dad was a DJ in the military and they called him ‘DJ Frost’ or ‘Ice Cold’ ’cause he was cold on the spins. So he said no matter what he named me, they were gonna call me ‘Little Frost,’ so he named me Frostee.
“It’s very unique. When I was younger, I hated it ’cause every time Christmas came around it was ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ But it stuck with me, and obviously I’m proud of my name.”
Like his name, Rucker’s personality is unforgettable.
“Frostee’s just a funny dude,” left defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. “He’s an all-around funny guy. He keeps you laughing in the meeting room. I don’t know where to start. He’s just a comedian.”
But when Rucker wears his game face, look out.
“You have to be able to turn the switch off just to be in society because when Sunday comes, I really turn the switch and it’s really different,” said Rucker, who had three tackles Sunday in the Browns’ 17-16 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “I just hope people don’t quote me on Sundays.”
Rucker considers many Bengals players his close friends. He and Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers took their families to the Bahamas together in the offseason. Rucker also owns an Orange Leaf frozen yogurt store that opened in downtown Cincinnati in April.
“I was there for six years, and I built a lot of tremendous relationships on the team and in the community,” Rucker said. “So it’s exciting and for me to be back and to run in Paul Brown [Stadium] on the other side of the field, I’ve just got to play the game with poise and not let it get too emotional for me.
“Obviously it means a lot because I’m getting to go back there and fortunately I’m getting to play my old team, and I get to do it twice a year for the next five years, so that’s unique. But there’s no bad blood there. I was on [injured reserve] three times there, so they didn’t have to keep me around. They gave me a chance and a lot of people don’t get those chances, so I have nothing bad to say about them.”
Still, Rucker doesn’t plan on becoming Mr. Nice Guy in the Battle of Ohio. In his mind, the two teams are part of a bitter AFC North rivalry.
“It never comes down to records or nothing like that,” Rucker said. “You know playing Cleveland or playing Cincinnati, you’re gonna get a very competitive, physical game. That’s why I’m so glad I stayed in Ohio. I can play in the AFC North where I know this is my type of football. You can get after it and be very physical and get bloody. I like it.”
The Browns love Rucker’s rugged style. His strong performances against them in the past prompted their interest in free agency.
“I always remember playing against him, even from when I was a rookie,” Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. “He’s kind of been the same guy every year. He’s really good against the run. He can push the pocket in the pass game. He’s got a couple good pass-rush moves. He can get home. He makes it tough to run to his side, and he makes every defense he plays on better. You watch him out there and going against him in training camp, you can definitely see that nasty side come out.”
Now Rucker is getting ready to battle left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The Bengals drafted Whitworth in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft and Rucker in the third.
“We’ve been practicing and playing versus each other for six years,” Rucker said. “I know him. He knows me. He knows I’m a competitor, and I know he is, too. If it wasn’t [Thomas], he would have probably been getting votes to go to the Pro Bowl and getting in it, too.
“He’s a leader on that team. He’s a captain and rightfully so because everything about being a professional he is. I’m just looking forward to going there, playing a very competitive game and hopefully coming out with a victory.”
If Rucker and the Browns triumph, it’s a safe bet he’ll have a song ready to kick off the celebration.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.