As you (hopefully) already saw, working alongside Teddie Baker (Jerome’s mother) afforded me an opportunity to interview an “NFL Mom.” I was lucky enough to get to pick her brain about her son, Ohio State and the draft. With that, she also gave me permission to reach out to Jerome to get some insight into his life as a Buckeye and his decision to pursue a career in the NFL.
Jerome, or Rome as he is called (his dad is Jerome, too), was a four-star recruit from Cleveland, Ohio. Though he originally opted for the University of Florida, he ultimately ended up close to home at Ohio State. In fact, his remarkable athleticism even resulted in him playing for the Buckeyes as a true freshman on special teams.
Ohio State doesn’t just recruit the occasional star. Everyone on their roster is used to being one of the best players on the field when they come in from high school, Rome included. As a freshman, he was unable to get onto the field on defense for more than a few plays at the end of games. As a result, Baker would second guess himself, often asking “Am I good enough?” Once he settled in, though, he let that thought turn to the positive, saying instead, “When I finally get a shot, I’m never going to give it back.”
And, that’s essentially how it played out. In the opening game of his sophomore season, teammate and starting linebacker Dante Booker went down with an injury. Surprisingly, as many thought another linebacker was next up, Baker’s name was called and he jumped right in.
He played well in his first start, a matchup against Tulsa. He even had a fumble return of 13 yards in the game. And yet, his first “wow” moment was in Norman, Oklahoma against the mighty Sooners in just his second start. Jalyn Holmes ran untouched from his defensive end spot to the quarterback — Baker Mayfield — and deflected his pass. The ball bounced into the air and… well… you remember the rest.
Rome told me that it was that moment, after the “pick six” where he just sat there, looked around, and let himself be amazed at where he was and what had just happened. It was also around that time that the prospect of playing in the NFL transitioned from a dream to an attainable goal. Being at Ohio State and competing with the best players in the nation made him confident that he’d be able to play at the next level as well.
It was also that play in Norman that helped thrust him into the spotlight. Like his mother, he didn’t have specific crazy fan stories, but instead offered that the atmosphere and OSU fan base is simply unique and special. He offered that, “Pretty much any place I go in the country, Ohio State fans show so much love and respect.”
We often don’t think about it, and merely see 105,000+ screaming fans, but Rome made it a point each week to look up and find his family at each game among the scarlet and gray faithful.
It was that family, along with his coaches, that helped him make the decision to forego his senior season and pursue a professional career. He noted that it wasn’t an easy process, by any stretch. However, he had a moment one day where he looked in the mirror and knew that he was ready.
That decision led to several months of intense training and scrutiny. Each potential professional player attempts to perfect their craft, hone their skills, and conduct interviews with dozens of teams and coaches. This, all while being held under a microscope by everyone connected to the sport. Rome leaned on the advice of old teammates that had been through the process. He applied tips and advice that he’d received, based on what they had seen and encountered.
I inquired with Rome about how he intended to handle the fame that comes along with an NFL career. “There’s really no handling the fame. I just really need to be myself.” He also added that being at OSU was a big help, as it prepares you for being in the spotlight. It also helped him to handle the pressure and criticism that comes with a high-profile career. He received a good deal in his junior year, but learned to let it fuel him to get better.
For his future, he will focus on the things that got him to this point: Family, faith and football. He also has a motto that has pushed him through difficult and testing times: “Always live my best life.” By keeping that fresh in his mind, he’s able to ensure that he’s doing everything he can to improve himself.
On Friday of draft weekend, with family gathered around, he sat and waited to see who would call his name. He’d received plenty of interest from multiple teams throughout the process. The two that seemed to always be in the forefront were the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins.
When the Dolphins called him and made it official, he was struck by a flurry of emotions. He was ecstatic to be drafted by Miami and also relieved to have made it to that point.
As he heads south and begins his rookie campaign, his initial goals are simple. He wants to contribute at a high level, improve each year, and become one of the best in the game.
If he lives his best life and improves in every practice and game, “the rest will handle itself.”
In closing, I asked if his connections to Cleveland (and Miami) might allow his mother to meet her favorite athlete… LeBron James.
“We’re gonna work that out one day!”