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Feature: Wilson Alum Joel Bitonio Becomes Father, Pro Bowler

You could live a whole lifetime and not experience the kind of emotional whirlwind that Wilson alum Joel Bitonio was living in last week. On Saturday, the Cleveland Browns offensive lineman learned he’d been named to the Associated Press All-Pro team, one of the highest honors available for an NFL player. Two days later, on Monday, Bitonio and his wife Courtney had their first child, Zoey Grace Bitonio. The next day, still exhausted from the birth of their daughter, the family got the phone call that Bitonio had been named a Pro Bowler.

“It was such a blessed week,” said Bitonio. “I got love from a lot of people, it was so cool. I don’t really even know what to say right now we’re just living moment by moment. The most important thing is we have a healthy baby. It’s just crazy.”

Bitonio becomes just the second Bruins alum to be named to the Pro Bowl. Bitonio joins Norm Standlee, who received the honor in 1941 and 1950.

“I couldn’t believe that,” said Bitonio. “The school is almost 100 years old.”

Bitonio has consistently been graded among the best in the NFL at his position by Pro Football Focus, but because of the Browns’ struggles in recent years hasn’t had a huge fan contingency to help vote him to the Pro Bowl. This year he was an alternate, and made it in after an injury.

Bitonio is the third Long Beach product to receive Pro Bowl honors this year, the most ever in a single year. He will join Poly alums Jurrell Casey and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27.

Bitonio said it was fun playing with Baker Mayfield and getting to experience on-field success this year. The Browns’ struggles, combined with an injury to Bitonio one year, meant that he went almost three full calendar years without experiencing a win, from Oct. 11, 2015 until beating the Jets this year in late September.

“It was legitimately almost three years without a win for me,” said Bitonio. “You forget how great it is to win. Towards the end of the year where we’re actually stringing wins together, it was fun to be a part of that. When you have a guy like Baker, he has a confidence about him that no matter what we feel like we have a chance to win.”

WIth a lot of returning talent including Mayfield, Bitonio admitted he’s already excited for the 2019 season.

“We’re going to actually have some expectations around here,” he said. “We’ve been trying to prove everyone wrong, now we’re going to try to prove everyone right and show that we’re here to stay.”

In the meantime, of course, there’s some sleepless nights ahead for he and his wife, as well as a trip to Orlando in a few weeks for the Pro Bowl.

“It’s all amazing,” he said. “Right now we’re just having fun. It’s the coolest thing ever to be a dad and a mom.”


Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.