Back in 2018, No. 12 Michigan was holding on to a 13-7 lead over No. 15 Wisconsin during the first drive of the second half.
The Wolverines were facing a fourth-and-6 from their own 44 and lined up to punt. As they got the kick away, a flag came out for roughing the snapper, giving Jim Harbaugh’s squad a fresh set of downs.
Five plays later, the Wolverines were in the end zone, the first of 25 consecutive points in a 38-13 rout of the Badgers.
But that would all come later. For a moment, those watching the game were consumed by the name of the long-snapper on the receiving end of the penalty: Camaron Cheeseman.
“All the Wisconsin fans are like, ‘Why didn’t he come to Wisconsin?'” Cheeseman said.
Ever since he could remember, his last name has always been a point of discussion.
“People always ask me, ‘Is it Cheese-man or is it Cheese-min?’ And I’m like, ‘I think it’s Cheese-min.’ … But yeah, people just call me ‘Cheese.'”
And Cheeseman notes that the fun doesn’t stop there, since his first name means “shrimp” in Spanish.
“So it’s like Shrimp Cheeseman is my name,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody else spell it that way, and I can never get a keychain at a [gift shop].”
But in a couple of weeks he might be able to find his name on an NFL draft card. Because while the name might be the first thing you notice about Cheeseman, he’s also one of the nation’s top long-snappers, currently at No. 2 in Mel Kiper Jr.’s rankings. (Each of the past six drafts has seen one long-snapper selected.)
There’s not a lot of glory for long-snappers. Their greatness can’t be measured by completions, yards or touchdowns, and attention usually comes only when they make a mistake.
To have one of the 32 long-snapping jobs in the NFL requires consistency, and that’s what Cheeseman and his coach Casey Casper of Kohl’s Kicking, Punting, and Long Snapping go for. Keeping that consistency after the past year has been a challenge, but one he’s been able to meet.
Cheeseman says he opted out of the 2020 season because Harbaugh told him a scholarship wasn’t available. (The former walk-on had been awarded a scholarship back in 2018.) At the time, Cheeseman needed to know if he would have one before renewing the lease on his apartment in Ann Arbor.
A native of New Albany, Ohio, Cheeseman and his family weren’t in a position to pay out-of-state tuition and, with the added uncertainty due to the pandemic, he decided to forego a final season and train for the NFL from home.
“A few weeks later, that’s when they brought the Big Ten season back and I was home,” Cheeseman said. “And I couldn’t do anything about it. I was helpless at that point. I already left, I graduated.”
“It was emotionally draining,” he added. “It was unfortunate. It was tough for me. That was my first season in 14 years I hadn’t played football.”
At that point, Casper said, “I told him, ‘You know that taking a year off like this kind of sets you back because these guys that are still playing are going to be training with the team and working with the team. And you know, the food, resources, you name it, just gotta work that much harder.
• Mock drafts: Kiper | McShay | GM
• Rankings: Kiper | McShay
• QBs: Key stats | Best throws | Proj.
• Kiper/McShay draft dueling superteams
• Pro day notes | Kiper’s mailbag
• Full ranking | Pick order | More
“‘It’s gonna be that much more enjoyable when you make it, but it’s going to be that much harder. You need to stay after it.'”
So throughout the fall of 2020 and into 2021, Cheeseman held himself accountable. He purchased a tripod for his iPad so he could take better film of himself. He would send film to Casper, and they’d go over it trying to pick out things he could do better.
“It’s cool where he’s gotten to with his knowledge of the game, just the little nuances,” Casper said. “It’s been fun for him and I because that’s what I do for a living, I break down long-snapping and film, tens of thousands of clips a year and figure out little things and why, and talk to guys like him and other NFL guys, and it’s just cool to have that. Guys that take it to that level where he’s a student of it, it’s like he’s becoming an expert kind of thing.
“How can we get better? How can we get faster, better rotation, more accuracy, all that stuff?”
Cheeseman takes those little details with his mechanics to his workouts, and takes it a step further by making his workouts feel as close to game situations as possible.
“A lot of times you’ll see snappers just want to keep snapping back to back to back, you may have five snaps in a minute,” Cheeseman said. “That’s unrealistic to how the game is. I kind of like to picture the situation. I may just stand over the side, and then I might do a little jog out to the ball. Visualize the fronts, visualize four guys on my left, four guys on my right, or five guys on my left, three guys on my right. And picture what the personnel protection is going to tell me and take my specific steps.”
Michigan’s pro-style punt system is also an advantage for Cheeseman. Most college teams run spread punts, where they snap the ball, and immediately run downfield. So for most long-snappers entering the NFL, there’s an adjustment.
“Easily the hardest part of being a good NFL snapper is your blocking,” Casper said. “Because you have to snap a ball, backpedal, catch up to a guy that’s in a dead sprint next to you. It’s very, very difficult to do and that’s why guys lose their jobs, is blocking. Cam’s been doing that already for three, four years, and he’s training on that. He’s not having to learn all that stuff now.
“He just checks every box. He really does.”
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay break down the 2021 NFL draft.
• First Draft podcast »
The rest of Cheeseman’s days are filled with taking an anatomy class at Columbus State Community College in order to be able to attend dental school at Ohio State. He took the Dental Admission Test (DAT) back in August, and scored over the 92 percentile on the exam, which helped him get into Ohio State.
Along with his workouts and classwork, Cheeseman has been working at an orthodontic practice in Gahanna, Ohio. He checks the wellness of patients who come in by taking temperatures, handing out mouthwash and having them fill out symptom forms.
And while Cheeseman has dental school in front of him before he can actually practice dentistry (presumably after football), he already has impressed Dr. James McNamara in Ann Arbor, who has been working in the field for half a century.
“He’s taking this NFL thing really seriously,” McNamara said. “But he’s taking the dentistry thing just as much. I mean, he got admitted to Michigan and Ohio State on his own merits. This wasn’t because he was a football player, I can tell you that.”
McNamara has known Cheeseman since 2018, and started inviting him to observe at his office. Eventually McNamara hired Cheeseman as a research assistant through the University of Michigan, where the two co-authored the first significant article on the carriere appliance, which is a method of fixing an underbite.
“To be a co-author on a major paper as your first paper was a big deal,” McNamara said. “And that doesn’t happen very often that I would put somebody in that, but he worked so hard and was not just putting in the hours, but was putting in the mental time to understand the significance of what we were doing.”
As far as dentistry and dental school goes, Cheeseman said, “It’s kind of just like a security blanket. I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, and I applied, and I got accepted. So I have that in my back pocket.
“But if the NFL works out this year, then I’ll just reapply.”
For now, he’ll keep grinding in the run-up to the draft.
“Long-snapping is unique, you have to be perfect,” Casper said. “That’s the expectation. And it’s unachievable, but you can keep working towards it.”