When Garrett Gilkey places his hand in the dirt and gazes across the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t picture the faces of the tormentors who reduced him to tears during his freshman year in high school.

The Browns' seventh-round draft pick doesn’t conjure images of tumult -- the bullying, the taunts, the pranks he says he endured -- to motivate him at the snap of the ball. The offensive lineman concedes, however, the experiences in the school hallways and streets of a rural Illinois town nine years ago benefit him in one capacity when he buckles his chinstrap.

“The person across the line wants to put me on my back and I’m not going to let him do it,” Gilkey said in a post-draft phone interview. “I don’t bring back those old feelings from my freshman year when I’m in practice or in a game. It’s more of an overall mentality: I’m not going to let someone get the better of me; I’m not going to be beaten down and defeated and humiliated the way I was back then.”

Some anti-bullying experts say the shame lingers long after the harassment ends. The skinny freckle-faced underclassmen who grew into a 6-6, 318-pound NFL prospect is becoming an advocate for students who fear what the next school day might bring.

Gilkey does not repress his memories. He shares them, sometimes in startling detail. He speaks of being booed during a 2005 school assembly after his name was announced, a reaction that sent him running to the restroom, his eyes welling with tears.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, the converted tackle from Division II Chadron State in Nebraska sat patiently and answered questions about the most traumatic time in his life. In recent weeks, the hulking man with the flowing red mane has addressed church groups and schools. He hopes to do the same in Cleveland.

“It’s about building relationships with people and tearing down barriers,” he said. “Whether it’s dealing with bullies or drug problems or problems in the home, it’s about having perseverance. Things will happen in our lives that will be really hard. What’s important is having faith and trying to persevere through them.”

Anti-bullying campaigns have gained momentum in the post-Columbine era. Paulie Velotta, a Mentor-based trainer for a national prevention program, said one in every six students report being bullied. She also cited a 2010 statistic that roughly 160,000 kids miss school each day over such concerns.

She said schools need to develop comprehensive programs, and that speakers like Gilkey offer an excellent supplement.