Football

Area players sign NFL free agent contracts

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As Reynoldsburg High School graduate Roosevelt Nix has learned the past few months, the willingness to be flexible can at least get the process started of making a dream come true.

Nix, who became the first Kent State football player and just the fifth in Mid-American Conference history to earn first-team all-league honors in four seasons, ranks second on the Golden Flashes' all-time list in career sacks (24) and is their all-time leader in tackles for loss (65).

However, because he is considered undersized for an NFL defensive lineman at 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, he's expected to enter training camp as a fullback after signing with the Atlanta Falcons on May 10.

"(Playing in the NFL has) been a dream of mine since I was a boy," said Nix, who was a three-time ThisWeek Super 25 honoree. "I'm sick that I didn't get drafted, but I'm ready to be a Falcon. I played a little bit (of fullback in high school) and it's definitely a fun position."

The NFL draft held May 8-10 came and went without any players from central Ohio being selected, but Nix was among five from the area who had signed by the end of the night May 10.

Upper Arlington's Blake Annen (TE) signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pickerington North's Alex Bayer (TE) signed with the St. Louis Rams. Former Olentangy teammates Kenny Anunike (DL) and Zac Kerin (OL) signed with the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.

Then on May 11, Pickerington North's Jairus Campbell (DL) signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

Of the four players from central Ohio who were signed as undrafted free agents shortly after the 2013 draft, three were on the final rosters of NFL teams at the end of last season.

One of those players, Dublin Coffman graduate and former Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, saw action in nine games last season for the Green Bay Packers.

Those facts should provide hope for this year's crop of undrafted free agents from central Ohio.

"(The draft process has) been kind of crazy but fun," Bayer said. "I wake up at 7 a.m., and this has got me in the best shape of my life. (Teams liked) that I've got excellent hands and I can catch the ball in traffic. I'm a good blocker, not great, but that's something I can work on."

Bayer (6-4, 257) had 50 receptions and made ThisWeek Super 25 honorable mention as a senior in 2008.

He went on to earn third-team all-MAC honors the last two seasons for Bowling Green, finishing with 37 catches for 593 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Campbell (6-4, 307), who was Bayer's teammate at Pickerington North and Bowling Green, had a season-best seven tackles during the Falcons' 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last December.

Campbell, who made ThisWeek Super 25 honorable mention as a senior for the Panthers in 2008, started 13 games last fall and made 33 tackles.

Also catching on as a tight end is the 6-4, 247-pound Annen, who had eight touchdown catches as a senior for the Golden Bears in 2008.

Last fall for the University of Cincinnati, he started nine games and had 16 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. His time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Bearcats' pro day earlier this spring helped him get noticed by pro scouts.

"It seems like it's been a long process because the draft was pushed back (two weeks later than a year ago), but it's given me more time to train and gives you a chance to talk to people," Annen said. "One of the things teams liked obviously was that I ran a 4.4 40 time. That's definitely helped because I wasn't necessarily utilized much as a receiving tight end (in college)."

Anunike, a 2008 Olentangy graduate, was a first-team all-district defensive lineman and also played tight end in high school. As a sixth-year redshirt senior last fall for Duke, he had 67 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss as the Blue Devils went 10-4.

At 6-5 and 260 pounds, he's projected to be a defensive end in the NFL.

"It's been exciting," Anunike said. "It's like getting recruited all over again. It's all about getting your foot in the door. You could start off as a special teams player, but it's a process."

Kerin (6-5, 310) was a second-team all-MAC selection as a senior center for Toledo. He also made second-team all-MAC as a sophomore and first-team all-MAC as a junior.

He struggled with hamstring tightness during his pro day in March, which might have hurt his draft stock.

"The past few weeks have been pretty busy," he said. "A lot of people seem to like that I'm a pretty intelligent player and they like my toughness, durability and physicality. I tried to stay away from mock drafts because so many things can happen, but there are so many aspects you don't have control of."

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