Former Buckeye Fullbacks Get Their Shot

It is not a glamorous position, but both Dionte Johnson and Tyler Whaley find themselves trying to make an NFL roster at the fullback position. Both signed free-agent deals after manning the position for Ohio State last season, and both talked about their respective situations to about their future prospects.

Two players. Two new teams. One position. One dream.

In the immediate aftermath of last weekend's NFL draft, two Buckeyes who did not see their names flashed across the television screen did not have to wait long to find that their dreams of playing professional football had not been dashed. Dionte Johnson and Tyler Whaley, both fullbacks by trade from Ohio State, soon found themselves agreeing to terms with NFL teams. In the process, they capped a draft weekend that was low on expectations but high on final results.

Neither player was projected to be drafted, and neither was invited to the NFL scouting combine. Instead, both players worked out at OSU's Pro Day in March and hoped they had caught the eye of at least one NFL team enough to merit getting a tryout.

Mission accomplished, as Whaley signed a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals and Johnson with the Arizona Cardinals.

"When I got that phone call, it's hard to describe the feeling that I had," Whaley told "All the things that you've been through have led you to that moment and it feels great. It's hard to describe. I had chill bumps. My parents were screaming. Everybody was going crazy."

For Whaley, who watched the draft while at home in Ironton, Ohio, the wait to find out where he would be playing football was a short one. His agent advised him that he would be getting phone calls in the hours immediately following the conclusion of the draft, but he did not even have to wait that long.

As the final pick was being announced, Whaley said, he took a phone call from his agent, who had just talked to the Bengals.

"Basically I had a call within a minute after (the last pick)," he said. "My agent called me first and (the Bengals) talked to him because they already had the deal that they wanted to give me on the table. My agent called me and said, ‘Here, you have a deal already. I think you should take it.' "

He accepted, and just like that another childhood dream was complete for the native of southern Ohio.

At the other end of the state, Johnson had been receiving steady communication from the Cardinals and was not surprised to get a phone call from them.

"I had been talking to Arizona the entire weekend and a couple of weeks leading up to it," he said. "They kept telling me they were really interested. That's who wanted me and that's where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a place where I'm wanted instead of where I'm trying to fill out a camp position."

Both players will find themselves in positions of need for their new teams, each of which uses a traditional fullback. The Cardinals have one established fullback in Terrelle Smith and a second-year backup in Tim Castille, while the Bengals have just veteran Jeremi Johnson at the position.

Johnson played fullback for the entirety of his OSU career, but Whaley was converted to the position as a senior after initially walking onto the program as a center.

"I'm just ready to learn," Johnson said. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most: seeing the change in the environment, change of pace, being around different people and being able to learn."

Neither player has a guaranteed future. Both reported to camp on Thursday and signed contracts that are contingent on each player making the active roster this fall.

"If you don't make it in the first two or three rounds, it's a battle for a spot," Johnson said. "Nothing is certain just because you get drafted or you're a free agent. It's a battle, and I've got to go up there and do work."

Each player received interest from other teams as well as the one that eventually drafted him. Johnson said he was personally contacted by Miami, Seattle, Arizona and Cleveland, while Whaley was in contact with Kansas City and Miami as well.

While getting drafted would have been ideal for both players, both were prepared for having to go the free-agent route. Two days of sitting around and waiting suddenly became a lot more difficult as Johnson and Whaley found themselves staring at their respective phones, praying for a call.

The individual workouts each player has put himself through since the 2007 season eventually paid off.

"I didn't really have high hopes of being drafted, even though it would've been nice to be," Whaley said. "I wasn't expecting it, so I don't think I was that stressed. But when the draft ended I was like, ‘OK, where's the phone calls? Let's get them coming.' "

For Whaley, the chance to play for the Bengals is simply a shot at fulfilling another dream. Although he was undersized for his position, he entered the OSU program as a walk-on and climbed the depth chart on the offensive line before being switched to fullback.

Now, after growing up as a Cincinnati fan, Whaley has the chance for a similar outcome at the professional level.

"At both places I'm starting at the bottom, but that's what I'm used to and that's what I did at Ohio State," he said. "I'm ready to get to Cincinnati and start working and do everything that the coaches ask me to do and do it as hard as I possibly can. Hopefully good things will come out of it."

For Johnson, he will be seeking to earn playing time on the same field – University of Phoenix Stadium – that saw the Buckeyes absorb a 41-14 loss to Florida in the 2007 national championship game.

"We've got to right the wrongs that got done there," he said with a laugh.

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