MIAMI — Former Miamian Jacob Cheatham has been playing the sport he loves in an unlikely place.
Cheatham, a 2012 graduate of Miami High School and a 2015 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, is a member of the University of Nottingham American Football Club (UoNAF).
He’s playing slot receiver and is a special teams player, returning kicks for the club while working on his masters in marketing at the university, which was founded as University College Nottingham in 1881.
According to Wikipedia, Nottingham has about 44,000 students and 9,000 staff at its four campuses.
While soccer is the national sport, American football is gaining popularity.
“They love it,” Cheatham said. “The level of play is not the same as it is over here, obviously.”
But the popularity has grown to the point that the National Football League plays three regular-season games in the UK.
Cheatham is one of six players who are being paid to be there. The rest of the squad pays a small stipend to be on the team.
“There’s a good bond on the team,” Cheatham said.
The team has seven British volunteer coaches. The Americans will help with drills and are team leaders, Cheatham said.
Cheatham and the other Americans on the team are master’s students, so they are older.
“The others are three or four years younger than us,” Cheatham said.
Games are play on soccer pitches that are marked for the American version of football.
Unlike in the United States where most facilities are designed to accommodate both versions of football, few fields in England are of regulation size — 100 yards long and 53 yards wide with 10-yard deep end zones.
“Soccer pitches aren’t the right size for football games,” Cheatham said. “We don’t play on a single field that’s got the right dimensions. Only a handful are 100 yards. Our home field is 10 yards short and the end zones are only 5 yards deep. The width is right.”
He said Nottingham will play at a couple fields that are a full 100-yards long, but the sidelines are 8- to 10-yards too narrow.
UoNAF is a member of the British Union American Football League, the largest student football league in Europe.
The team, which only goes by “Green and Gold,” competes in the 30-team Tier 1 of the British Universities and Colleges Sport Midlands Regional Division.
The Green and Gold — ranked No. 1 in one UK American Football poll — entered the Christmas break with a 4-0 record, allowing only 10 points all season. No offensive touchdowns have been allowed.
Nottingham opened its season with a 38-0 win over the University of Staffordshire Stallions.
It rolled 44-3 over Liverpool John Moores Fury in the Green and Gold home opener. Cheatham was cited for great play on ”offence,” according to a post on the club’s Facebook page.
A 34-0 romp over the Worchester Royals. The game was called at the half due to “player safety.”
Cheatham scored on a trick play during a 28-7 win over the Warwick Wolves in the final game of the semester.
Nottingham will play another four games during the spring semester then will compete in an post-season tournament against other English teams to determine a champion.
“They don’t have as many guys or as much depth, so the guys that can play, play a lot,” Cheatham said.
He’s only playing offense for Nottingham.
“We’ve lost one guy who is a scholar on defense (who will play professionally in Switzerland). They (coaches) may be looking at some of us to get some reps (defensively).”
This isn’t Oklahoma
Cheatham said some things are similar but most is completely different.
The food has taken a little getting used to for Cheatham.
“Beans on Toast (baked beans on toasted bread” is one thing they talk about eating all the time,” he said. “I tried it — they made me — but I am not a big fan.”
Cheatham said he’s also had a traditional English breakfast, which usually includes bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms and baked beans.
“It wasn’t bad,” he said. “They like their tea. There are a couple little places where you can go get American food. It’s still not the same.”
Cheatham takes advantage of public transport. Driving on wrong side of the road and all the roundabouts have taken some getting used to.
He said undergraduate work at OBU helped prepare him for this.
“Masters work is the same as you find here,” Cheatham said. ‘They don’t give you a lot of busywork. You have one big essay and one big test. The grading system is different.”
How he got there
Cheatham started the application process during his junior year at OBU.
“Dad (Miami athletic director James Cheatham) found a link to a website for this company that connects athletes to coaches overseas,” Jacob Cheatham said. “I signed up and made a profile with academic information and video.”
He finally heard back and “it all started falling into place.”
Jacob Cheatham was in on the ground floor when the OBU football program was restarted in 2012.
“I enjoyed it there,” he said. “It was a lot of work. My last year really turned out good (logging the most playing time in his five seasons there).”
He’s home for the semester break. Classes resume in January and run through April.
Jacob Cheatham then will spend the summer working on his dissertation.
Costs were a concern for his parents.
“I was a little concerned about that, but they helped him apply for other scholarships,” James Cheatham said. “He received a business school scholarship, a foreign exchange scholarship, football scholarship and military scholarship, so it’s mostly financing itself.
“It’s a door God opened. It’s a great opportunity. When everything fell into place, or when the stars lined up so to speak, it was a no brainer.”
Jacob Cheatham graduated from OBU with bachelors in pre-allied health and rehabilitation.
“I was looking at going to physical therapy school and had gone through the process and qualified, but didn’t get in,” he said. “So I decided to take this opportunity.”
And he’s glad he did.
“I am really enjoying it,” Jacob Cheatham said. “It’s an opportunity to keep playing football, which I am not going to turn down.”