Cam Cheatham was a running back and slot receiver at Kalamazoo (MI) Central High School and anticipated having a similar role at the University of Cincinnati.
On his first day of training camp in 2008 he found out he was being moved to cornerback.
“I was given a black jersey and I was like, ‘Man, that’s for the defensive players.'” Cheatham told me. “I thought they might have made a mistake. I went to the equipment guy and he was like, ‘No, that’s what you play. You’re with (defensive backs coach) Kerry Coombs.’ I was mad and there were times where I didn’t want to play that position, but God always has a plan and it worked out. I’ve been a three-year starter and I’ve played a lot of football.”
Cheatham did get to show off his running back skills recently, when he intercepted a pass against Miami’s Zac Dysert and sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown.
“I had flashbacks,” said Cheatham. “It’s been a long time since I ran into an open end zone like that.”
Cam’s “Pick Six” swung the momentum when it appeared that the RedHawks might jump out to an early two touchdown lead.
“It was a great call by (defensive coordinator) John Jancek and I just made a play,” said Cheatham. “Everybody else was doing their job and I was able to reap the benefits and make the big play. That’s all it was.”
“I’m really proud of him,” said head coach Butch Jones. “He’s really improved his leadership skills and he’s really taken ownership in the back end of our defense. He’s been extremely consistent, extremely competitive, and it’s a great comfort knowing that you have a corner who can win in man coverage.”
Ironically, Coach Jones unsuccessfully tried to recruit Cheatham when he was the head coach at Central Michigan but wound up getting to coach him for three years at Cincinnati.
“It all worked out and I feel very fortunate,” said Jones. “I’m very proud of how far he’s come and the improvement that he’s made. Each year you could see him making dramatic improvement and he’s well-respected on our football team. Cam’s very polite and quiet and unassuming and then all of a sudden, you put him in some competitive situations and you see another side to him.”
In addition to being handed a defensive practice jersey at his first training camp, Cheatham was originally given the #2. But he was able to change to #21 in honor of his hero Deion Sanders.
“If you look at it, Deion Sanders is to the cornerback position what Michael Jordan is to basketball,” said Cheatham. “All great cornerbacks come up wanting to wear #21. He was Prime Time, he had the shoes, he was bouncing around out there, and he was a lock-down corner. It’s on my bucket list to meet him. He’s the best to ever do it.”
Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in the NFL and Cheatham has done that twice at UC. The decision to move him from running back to cornerback proved to be a wise one.
“It worked out perfectly and I’m happy where I’m at,” Cam told me. “I don’t know if I would have made it at running back. We’ve had some great running backs and I don’t know if I could have taken all of those hits.”
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