NFL draft: Central Ohio players work to reach next level

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Darrick Forrest, a 2017 Walnut Ridge graduate who played at the University of Cincinnati, is hoping to be selected in the three-day NFL draft, which begins April 29. He's projected as the No. 14 safety prospect on NFL.com.

Darrick Forrest was in elementary school when he made one of his siblings a $50 bet that he would play in the NFL.

Thinking big is something Camaron Cheeseman hasn’t shied away from either, particularly when considering the obstacles that have been thrown in the way of his dream of playing professionally.

Those two are among the players from central Ohio who are hoping to be selected during the NFL draft April 29-May 1 in Cleveland. 

Forrest, a 2017 Walnut Ridge graduate who played at the University of Cincinnati, is a 6-foot, 200-pound safety projected on some draft boards as a third-day selection, when the final four of seven rounds will be held. 

Another player from the area who could get selected on the draft’s final day is Ohio State defensive lineman Jonathon Cooper. He and Cheeseman, a long snapper who played at Michigan, are 2016 Gahanna graduates.

“I’ve been training a few days a week in Columbus and my numbers matched up against some of the best in the (American Athletic Conference),” Forrest said. “They canceled the NFL combine, which was supposed to have been held (in late February). So that was tough, especially for guys like me, because I feel like I’m underrated and I knew that was going to be a platform for me to show my talent. ...

“My dream to go to the NFL, I want to say, started when I was around 10 years old.” 

After Cincinnati went 4-8 in 2017, Forrest was part of the program’s resurgence under coach Luke Fickell, a former Ohio State assistant coach and player who graduated from DeSales. The Bearcats went 11-2 in 2018, 11-3 in 2019 and 9-1 last season, losing to Georgia 24-21 in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1. 

Forrest closed his college career with 200 tackles and six interceptions, including picking off two passes and making 40 tackles as he earned honorable mention all-AAC honors last season.

On NFL.com, Forrest is ranked as the No. 14 safety prospect. 

“A lot of teams are reaching out to me, just getting to know me,” he said. “They have my film and have talked to my coaches. It’s just about them seeing if I’m going to be a good fit for their program.” 

Jonathon Cooper, a 2016 Gahanna graduate and three-year starter at Ohio State, is the No. 10 defensive end prospect on NFL.com.

Cooper was a three-year starter and fifth-year senior for Ohio State. Last fall, he helped the Buckeyes go 7-1 and reach the national championship game. 

Listed at 6-4 and 257 pounds, Cooper had 24 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss last season while earning third-team all-Big Ten honors. He’s listed as the No. 10 defensive end prospect on NFL.com.

Cheeseman appeared in 39 games for Michigan from 2017-19. 

After it originally was decided last August by the Big Ten that the 2020 season would be moved to the winter or spring, Cheeseman opted out because he was told there was no scholarship available for him and he was close to graduating. 

By the time the Big Ten reinstated the season, he already had earned his undergraduate degree. 

Cheeseman spent last fall continuing to work on his skills and is one of only three long-snapping prospects with bios on NFL.com. 

There has been one long snapper selected in each of the past six NFL drafts. 

A story on Cheeseman’s hopes of playing in the NFL recently was published on ESPN.com. 

“With long snapping, it’s one of those things where you don’t really get that same level of exposure, so any way you can get your name out there, that’s definitely valuable,” he said.  

Camaron Cheeseman, a 2016 Gahanna graduate who was a long snapper at Michigan, believes he has positioned himself to play in the NFL. He is one of only three long-snapping prospects with bios on NFL.com.

Cheeseman believes the combination of his 6-4, 240-pound frame along with working with renowned kicking coach Casey Casper from Kohl’s Kicking has him prepared for the next level. 

He also snapped for punts and kicks in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Alabama. 

“I would say (not playing last fall) put me back a little bit, but I was fortunate to have the Senior Bowl to put me back to where I was originally,” Cheeseman said. “It was incredible, that whole atmosphere and getting back to playing with those types of athletes. 

“My biggest strength is coming through the punt system they ran at Michigan, which is a pro-style system, along with my size. You want to be big so you can block.” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek