BEREA — Defensive end Frostee Rucker left his heart in Cincinnati, along with his frozen yogurt store, when he signed with the Browns on March 15.
But don’t confuse his fondness for the Queen City with any regrets about leaving the Bengals as a free agent.
“They gave me six blessed years in Cincinnati, and without me being there for six years, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Rucker, who turned 29 Friday. “I have no ill will toward the Bengals. In fact, I’m grateful for all the support they showed me.
“I wish them the best of luck — except when they play us twice.”
On Sunday, Rucker makes his return to Paul Brown Stadium when Cleveland plays the Bengals at 1 p.m.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder will be lined up in his familiar spot on the right side of the line, just as he did 53 times for Cincinnati after being its third-round pick in 2006.
Rucker made such a strong, positive impression during his later years with the Bengals, even coach Marvin Lewis admits he will have mixed emotions watching him play for another team.
“Frostee, I thought really developed as a young man and as a football player here,” Lewis said. “I’m very proud and happy for Frostee, having watched him grow as a leader on our football team.
“Through and coming out of the lockout last year, a lot of our linemen really took over the football team, and Frostee was one of them — and he was good at it.”
Rucker made three tackles in the Browns’ 17-16 loss to Philadelphia in Week 1, which ranked second on their defensive line to Ahtyba Rubin’s four. His impact in the locker room, though, has been much more impactful.
The former USC standout’s warm smile and engaging personality has made him one of the more popular players on the team.
So has his taste in music, which led to Rucker becoming the locker room DJ once Cleveland established its final roster — and gave him room to put his giant Block Rocker speaker in an open locker to his left.
“He’s also a really funny dude all the time,” defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. “Since he’s from USC, he’s got a lot of different jokes that he tells. Frostee walked in right away the first day and started making us laugh. He keeps us loose with his sense of humor and his music.”
Ironically, his father possessed similar rhythmic skills, which prompted Len Rucker to give his son a very unique first name.
As the younger Rucker tells it, his dad “was so cold on the spins (turntables), other guys in the military started calling him D.J. Frost. He actually changed his own name to Frostee after I was born, so I don’t know if I’m Frostee I, Frostee II, Frostee Sr. or Frostee Jr. All I know is I love my name, and one day if I have a kid, I’m going to name him Frostee, too.”
Rucker has also parlayed his name into a business venture, having opened an Orange Leaf frozen yogurt store in downtown Cincinnati earlier this year. The dessert spot is located between Paul Brown Stadium and the Reds’ Great American Ball Park in a trendy development known as The Banks.
“My name is Frostee and it’s frozen yogurt, so everybody loves it,” Rucker said. “Of course, I’d love to make money with the store, but to me, it’s more about providing jobs and being a part of the community.
“I was a sociology major in college, so this is a totally different world, but I really enjoy being in all the business meetings that come along with it. I’m learning their language and getting ready for my life after football while I’m still playing.”
Barring injury, though, the next phase of Rucker’s life won’t begin for a long time. The Browns signed him to a five-year, $21 million contract because they expect him to be one of the cornerstones of their developmental process.
Rucker also expects nothing less from himself.
“The guys in Cincinnati know how I play, and the guys here are getting a taste of it,” he said. “It’s just really high spirit, high energy and really physical. I know when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to put on my game face, but there is room for both in the NFL.
“I’ve matured a lot over the years, and I’m here now and I’m ready to play the role that the Browns have chosen for me.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
• WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM