Cousin#039;s death helps motivate Cleveland#039;s Northcutt

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2003

CLEVELAND - Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt has more than playoff hopes and free agency to motivate him this year.

Northcutt has dedicated his season to his cousin, Jeffrey Nicholson, who was shot and killed outside of Northcutt's barber shop in South Central Los Angeles before training camp. The murder remains unsolved.

"It was hard, because he was not only my best friend and my cousin, but my mentor," Northcutt said.

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Nicholson, 39, helped Northcutt open the barber shop _ a place where kids could come in off the streets, play pool and video games and watch the Browns on Sundays.

"I put the barbershop in the 'hood knowing that things could happen," Northcutt said. "But I was trying to help a little bit, and even though this happened, I still don't want to give up on the neighborhood."

Nicholson always reminded Northcutt that football wasn't forever and helped him invest in Los Angeles real estate.

"It's hard, because I know he'd be here this year," Northcutt said. "He'd call me after every game. I know how much he adored watching me play football. Everybody back home would always tell me that."

Northcutt didn't have time to dwell on the loss. Shortly after the funeral, it was time for training camp.

"I couldn't let it be a distraction," he said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. Where I come from, it's part of life."

Northcutt will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

With the release of Kevin Johnson last week, Northcutt has been bumped up to No. 3 receiver and possibly to the top of the Browns' contract priority list.

Browns president Carmen Policy said there's an increased chance the Browns will sign Northcutt to a multiyear deal. Coach Butch Davis agreed.

"We've always wanted Dennis to be part of this franchise for a long time," he said.

Northcutt is the Browns' leading active receiver with 40 catches for 417 yards and has excelled on third down. He's tied for first place in the AFC with 22 third-down receptions. He has two touchdowns and 194 yards on third downs.

Wide receiver Quincy Morgan said he likes the combination of him and Andre' Davis on the outside and Northcutt in the slot.

"There's not a DB in the world who can cover Dennis in the slot," Morgan said. "That's his zone. If you get him out on the edge, people will try to rough him up a little bit. But you put him in that slot and it's the biggest mismatch in the world."

Northcutt said he loves the city, the fans and his new radio show on a local hip-hop station.

"I want to stay," he said. "But if I'm not here, it's because God has a better plan for me."