Safeties coach Ephraim Banda (6.13.24)

How much has this year been, this offseason been comfort wise? Just because of the familiarity you have with not just the coaching staff, but the surroundings in general where you’re living and everything?

“A great question. Year one was a sprint from the day that I moved here till the end of last game. I mean, it was just a sprint, and that’s tough, you know, a sprint from learning the playbook, a sprint from learning the players, a sprint from learning what Kevin (Stefanski) and AB (Andrew Berry) want here and the Haslam’s and just operating in this environment. So, year two has been an absolute blessing. Just an opportunity to actually not sprint the whole time. You know, at times you do have to sprint, this is a part of the time you sprint, you know, obviously, you’ll slow down a little bit here, but definitely a lot more comfort in the sense that I know what Jim (Schwartz) expects now. I know what he wants. I feel a lot more comfortable, personally, in terms of getting the message across to our guys, especially our room, making sure that I communicate it the way they need it, and then also making sure that it matches up with what we’re teaching on the field, to make sure that they have the best OTAs or coming out of the OTAs or this part of the year, that they can be the best that they can be at this point. So, it’s been phenomenal to be in year two, for sure.”


Ephraim, you guys got pretty beat up last year in that room, so this week to be able to have Rod (Rodney Mcleod Jr.) and Grant (Delpit) and Juan (Thornhill) back out there again, how big was that, even if it’s just a handful of days?

“No, it’s funny, as we were going through OTAs, and obviously guys were having some amazing life blessings for themselves and Grant coming back off the surgery, it was really nice. I told the guys,  I told the young guys, I said, ‘Hey, fellas, we’re just picking up where we left off’, you know, with DBell (D’Anthony Bell) and Rocket (Ronnie Hickman Jr.) and those guys. And I will say this to that point, I felt like those two guys really had a great nine weeks. They got better, they improved, I got to spend a lot of time with those guys which was nice. It was definitely nice to see the old guys come back. Obviously had two awesome blessings for them and to have Grant back healthy, nice to have them back in the room. They both, all of them did a great job working, coming in in shape, you know, Juan putting on six extra pounds of muscle. Grant looked phenomenal. Rod, you know, Rod’s the OG, he’s going to come back ready and everything. So, it was nice to have those guys back, it was. I thought it was kind of unique to end the season the way we did and then going into these OTAs, and I felt like those guys got better from it. So, they’ve had a long stretch of improvement in terms of those young guys.”


What do you think motivated Juan (Thornhill) to put on that extra muscle?

“You know, I think Juan is a highly competitive human being. He’s very self-aware and I think for him, he wanted to come in and attack, you know, this season. To your question earlier, you know, year one for him, year one was year one for him, too. And he had a lot of moving parts last year and he felt like he got a chance to kind of be settled and to make year two more of a routine for himself. So, he was ready to do that, I thought he did a phenomenal job attacking, getting himself ready, getting his body ready so that he can have the best season possible.”


Going back to year two as a whole for that group, how helpful is that for them? As you guys have went through minicamp, but also prepping for this season, a year in the system?

“I mean, it’s like Jim (Schwartz) said, you know, we’re not on chapter one anymore. You know, we’re able to move past chapter one, maybe kind of like Cliff notes chapter one, but you know, S.T.A.R.T. is still S.T.A.R.T., it will always be for us, but for us to kind of be able to move into chapter 10, 11 and 12 and move forward and really understand why Jim’s calling something not just ‘execute it’, you know. So, for us year twos are great in that sense, you know, as a coach, but also as a player, being able to really take that, know what to do. But now we can apply the ‘how’, the ‘why’, and everything else that makes the player better, makes the scheme better, makes the system better.”


Speaking of the competitiveness of Juan (Thornhill), last year I asked you about the chirpiness that he had walking off the field, and he’s doing it again this year, getting those guys riled up. What does that mean to this team at this time and what can you say about Juan and what he brings?

“You know, it’s like you asked a question last year, it was a great question. Bottom line is you need energizer guys like that. You need energy people, and he brings it, he’s got a sense of pride to himself, he’s competitive, he has an edge, and he brings that to our group and he walks that way, he thinks that way. And those people, like, they affect everybody around them in their circle. So, it’s nice to feel that again, to hear Juan’s voice, you know, it’s a unique voice I’ve heard for many years, you know, on the other sideline often, but now being on the sideline with him, it’s infectious and it catches fire, and everyone feeds off of it.”


Have you seen guys kind of pick up that same energy that he’s bringing?

“Yeah, I do. I have. I’ve seen guys really kind of come out of their shells a little bit. Jim promotes that, he really pushes that in his scheme and his system you know, the swagger we play with. We want to lead the league in that category, you know, really having, playing with passion and making sure fans and people see that, but also their teammates, you know, and we, ‘no celebration loafs’ is what we call it. So, you know, Jim really pushes that, and I think the guys take to that. Even if that’s not who they are, they become that, and that’s part of building this culture.”


Going back to my first question about just the comfort this offseason and everything, college football as more and more goes into college football coaching, how much have you sort of stepped back and been able to exhale more as you watch friends and colleagues at that level?

“Well, don’t give me PTSD right now. Like, I don’t want to, like, start geeking out here, but it’s been a blessing to be here. I’m very thankful for Kevin (Stefanski), AB (Andrew Berry), the Haslam’s personally, to sit back and see what’s going on, it’s tough. Those coaches, my colleagues, they’re fighting, you know, and I get it. You know, there’s reasons why and there’s pluses and minuses in it. I definitely say I’m very blessed and thankful to be here and to be a part of this organization to see what’s going on, but also to kind of like learn because what’s happening here is eventually going to spill over to that world. And, and I think a lot of coaches have come in here. Kevin’s been awesome about, you know, coach, college coaches coming in and there’s a lot of questions about, ‘Hey, you guys are operating in this manner we’re going to have to operate like that there.’ So I think it’s been good to see the professional development and our organization opening up to that.”


Just to go back to Rod (Rodney Mcleod) since he announced it’s going to be his last year. I know this, your room doesn’t need any extra juice, but does that add like, a different dynamic with guys wanting to send him out with a bang, him wanting to go out with a bang, anything like that?

“You know, it’s one of our goals. I have individual goals for each one of those players. We have a goal for the room, we have a goal for the defense. But for Rod, we want to make sure that Rod, you know, our ultimate goal is to send Rod out a winner. His last game we want it to be a win, bottom line. And if that happens, you know, that’s what we’re shooting for. So definitely excited for him to be his last year, I was excited when I got the call that he was coming back. I was definitely – I slept better again. You know, I always tell you I sleep really good when I know Rod’s going to walk through the doors.”


I know this happened at the end of last year, but Grant (Delpit) signing the extension as well.



What does he mean to this defense, specifically, this room and to you as you’ve gotten to know him?

“And just, you know, again, I’ve known grant since his days at Lamar High School and then transferring and recruiting him, it was a special moment, you know, for him to sign that contract. I think the organization invested in a person who’s invested into this place, and you see that in his work ethic. You see that in his presence and his. And everything that he pours into Cleveland. So, you want a guy like that. You want to put the money on a guy like that. So, for me to see him get that contract, we talked a lot about it. That was the first conversation, I picked up the phone and still had his number in there as a recruit, but it still had the same number, but it was a goal for us to make sure he gets there. For the room, Grant is Grant. Grant is toughness, Grant, his presence it’s a voice when we need it, and he goes out there every day, and he proves it. So, I think Cleveland, the fans, the fan base, the Haslam’s, AB, you know, they did the right thing, and I think it’s going to benefit this place for a long time.”


We talked to a few defenders, your room, other rooms, about kind of how that playoff loss sat with them. How are you seeing guys kind of respond and is there any motivation that comes from that? Have you seen guys kind of coming back, wanting to put that behind them?

“Well, it’s like my six-year-old daughter, you know, she watches these things. Love you, Aamani, when you watch it, but it’s like a child, right? You know, they don’t learn until they touch something or get hurt. And that’s, you know, when they’re that age and it’s the same, you know, you get touched, you touch the fire, you get burnt and you never forget it. It motivates you; it reminds you every day why we’re doing this and what we’re trying to do. That group out there, they have that mentality. They know exactly what we have to do to make sure that, you know, that we are better in that situation next time. I know it’s motivated me. I know this coaching staff has motivated this entire building. But you have to do those things. Like my daughter, you have touch it and you got to learn. We all do, and unfortunately it hurt. But at the same time, you’re going to grow a lot from those experiences.”


Are you guys going to have a diaper party or anything in this position room?

“Yeah, well, definitely. We’re going to have little ones running around. It’s going to be kind of fun. Those guys are excited for that, too, so it’ll be good.”


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