Photo from Joseph D. Sullivan/newsday.com
By Nick Kalantzopoulos
Growing up with three older brothers and two older sisters can be one of life’s greatest challenges. For Naim Cheeseboro, it was the first of many.
Cheeseboro, 23, just finished his senior season at Stony Brook, where he was able to play in 44 football games over four years, and start all but two of them in his last three. The defensive back is now working on the next phase of his life, as a pro prospect. Cheeseboro has faith in the process, knowing how it all began.
Cheeseboro grew up the youngest of six children, in a modest home in Philadelphia. His father passed away when he was in elementary school, so his mother was left the burden of raising her family alone. This new challenge led to a life changing decision by Rochelle Cheeseboro. She moved her family into the suburbs, giving Naim and his siblings a shot at a better life.
“Naim was always good at football,” Rochelle said. “He started playing at 4, and two weeks after he started, the coach on the other team asked his coach to sit him down. He was too good for the other players. Naim was too young to know what was happening. All he knew was what his coach told him to see the football and to go get the football.”
After moving, Cheeseboro got the chance to start showing his athletic prowess on a different stage, when he began playing for a new coach. What he did not expect to find, however, was a new family member.
“My mom was able to move us into the suburbs,” Cheeseboro said, “and I played with the Bridgeport Dragons all the way through middle school.” His new coach, Ray Gambone, became an important part of his life. He would hang out at his house after school, and found a friend in Raymond Gambone, the coach’s son. Eventually, he went up to Ray and his wife Dina, and gave a request that had nothing to do with football. He asked to live with them.
“His mom was getting sick,” Gambone said. “And she was thinking of sending him to live in his aunt’s house.” In addition to asking for a new home, Cheeseboro even asked Gambone and his wife Dina to become his godparents.
“He was nervous to ask us. He wanted to ask (my children) Ray and Nikki first,” Gambone said, “He’s my son. I consider him my son.”
Cheeseboro, who lived with his godparents throughout his college selection process, still got plenty of input from his mother.
“He had bigger schools looking at him, like Ohio State,” Rochelle Cheeseboro said. “But I always told him to make sure to get his degree. That’s what was important to me.”
After accepting a scholarship from Stony Brook, Naim Cheeseboro’s life challenges did not just end. One in particular changed his look on life completely.
“His sister was diagnosed with cancer,” Rochelle Cheeseboro said, “One day we were told that she might not last the whole night so we called Naim. He rushed right over. Unfortunately, she passed away. We’re just happy that Naim was there with us.”
The death of his sister could have derailed Naim as a player, but according to his mother, it allowed him to focus on the important things.
“He changed,” Rochelle Cheeseboro said. “He was able to grow more.”
Naim Cheeseboro is done with Stony Brook football, and is working towards a pro football career. He trains daily, has had private workouts with both the New York Giants and the New York Jets and took part in Stony Brook’s Pro Day in March. He now has his sights set on possibly being picked in this year’s NFL Draft.
Naim Cheeseboro is eager for a possible selection, but insists that he will not throw a big party like many other prospects. Instead, Cheeseboro will have a small, intimate one, with those closest to him. While he may be on the stoic side when it comes to his future prospects, his mother is totally different.
“I don’t even know if I want to watch the draft,” Rochelle Cheeseboro said. “But I know that no matter where he goes he’ll be ok.”
To most NFL prospects, actually getting drafted is one of life’s biggest challenges. But for Naim Cheeseboro, it’s just the next one.
Update: Naim Cheeseboro was not selected in the 2016 NFL Draft and is currently an unrestricted free agent looking for a shot with an NFL team.