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Jason Cellura was an investment banker who lived in New York and San Francisco.

The Cleveland native later started an online sports gaming business, which failed even after it raised $300,000 in funding.

Now, the former Case Western Reserve football player and fitness fanatic believes he’s found his calling by developing what he calls “the most comfortable athletic underwear ever.”

AMMO Athletic debuted its athletic underwear this year. A month ago, AMMOlaunched a Kickstarter campaign that as of Tuesday morning had exceeded its $10,000 goal by more than $1,400.

The funds will be used to deliver a second round of athletic underwear, and to introduce the company’s ¾-length tights just in time for the start of basketball season.

After BookDogger, his sports gaming business failed, Cellura — a former quarterback at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and wide receiver at Case — thought “remaking the protective cup” for athletes would be the idea for his next startup. But after talking to “nearly 100 athletes, I kept going back to compression shorts and the problems with those,” he said.

The problem, in his mind: The industry leaders, Nike and Under Armour, spend a ton of money on advertising and to line up high-profile endorsers. As a result, some of the products suffer, Cellura said.

“I’m a former athlete who’s in the gym six or seven days a week,” Cellura said. “We’ve seen the degradation in quality of Nike and Under Armour products. They have worse materials, shoddy construction. They fall apart after a month or two.”

To get AMMO’s athletic underwear and tights to his liking, Cellura said he studied almost 1,000 fabric samples before settling on a company in Italy. 

The 32-year-old Cellura admits he’s taken his share of “lumps” along the way. AMMO was ready to hit the market last September, but Cellura said a manufacturer backed out of an agreement, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. And the current product line won’t be delivered until October (after the start of football season) because the Italian fabric maker takes all of August off. (“European vacation, man,” Cellura said with a laugh.)

Now that the Kickstarter campaign is funded, the tights will go into production. If those catch on, athletic shirts could be next.

Cellura’s brother, who plays football for John Carroll, is also involved in the business, but Cellura doesn’t want to name him — he’s referred to as “AC” on AMMO’s website — in the unlikely case that the NCAA would go after a Division III player’s eligibility.

The input of Cellura’s brother is key, since the college football player knows what current athletes are wearing and what they like and dislike.

But it’s Cellura who’s doing most of the heavy lifting. He leads the product development and digital strategy, and is trying to spread the word via social media.

He says he’s much happier in his current role than he was during his previous startup.

“The online gaming business was very amorphous,” Cellura said. “There was nothing tangible. I had to make a decision. Do I continue to swing the bat as an entrepreneur? You essentially have to, right?”

The brothers, from their own experiences and what they heard from others, thought there was an opportunity with athletic underwear.

“They’re not made for an adult. They’re made for a child,” Cellura says of the big-name brands.

Hence an AMMO tagline: #nutsonacloud.

AMMO’s website has endorsements from trainer Ross Enamait, whose Facebook page has more than 217,000 likes, and health and fitness author Mike Matthews, who also has a sizable social media following (78,000-plus on Facebook and 40K-plus on Instagram). The company also got a recent Twitter shoutout from boxer Roy Jones Jr.

Cellura said he started focusing on Instagram in the summer of 2015, and the account had 16,100 followers as of Tuesday morning.

The former investment banker said he splits his time between Euclid and Chicago, where his significant other lives.

“It’s a bootstrapped operation,” he said. “The money is coming out of my pocket.”

He admits AMMO isn’t profitable yet, but he’s holding out hope that once more athletes try the performance gear, their endorsements will produce a needed spark.

“Once we get these products in people’s hands and see their reactions — let them do the testifying for us in some cases,” Cellura said. “That will help.”

This post originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.

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