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Finding A Passion In Dentistry Was A Snap For Camaron Cheeseman

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Camaron Cheeseman snaps the ball during rookie minicamp. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Anyone visiting the University of Michigan would not have to travel far to find McNamara Orthodontics. The 1889 Victorian home sits at the corner of Lawrence and North Ingalls Street, with its beige and white bricks, trimmed hedges and balcony looking as neat and clean as one expects their teeth to be after an appointment. Anyone looking for Camaron Cheeseman when he wasn't practicing for the Wolverines had a good chance of finding him there.

It might seem a little out of place to see a 6-foot-4, 237-pound long snapper at an orthodontist's office at first, but it is not as unusual as one would think. For starters, Cheeseman worked as Dr. James McNamara's assistant from 2018-20. What started as an interest in other medical fields turned into a sincere love that McNamara helped shepherd and grow during their time together.

That leads into the next point; Cheeseman is a natural at the profession. It is not often that McNamara comes across a student-athlete interested in his field, and it is even rarer to find one as dedicated to it as Cheeseman, who scored in the 93rd percentile on the Dental Admissions Test. There were even times when Cheeseman's knowledge matched that of McNamara's, which he had developed over half a century.

Will Cheeseman eventually pursue a career in dentistry? That is anyone's guess; it will largely depend upon how his career with the Washington Football Team goes. But from what McNamara has seen, the future for Cheeseman's "emergency backup plan" is just as bright as his current one.

"It just became more obvious as I got to know Camaron that he really was interested in what we were doing," McNamara said.

There are some qualities that someone needs to possess in order to have a successful career in dentistry, the first of which being, as McNamara put it, "you have to have a brain that works." That's a box Cheeseman could check with relative ease. Throughout the time he worked as McNamara's assistant, he earned two Academic All-Big Ten honors along with being named the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2019.

Getting good grades is one thing, but putting that knowledge to use is an entirely different matter. Cheeseman did not get the chance to physically work with people's teeth under McNamara, but there were other ways for him to impress his mentor.

There is a procedure in orthodontics called the carriere appliance, which is supposed to help fix a person's underbite. In years past, the only way to remedy this problem was through jaw surgery and removing teeth, but the appliance helped change someone's bite without requiring either. Cheeseman could not actually perform the procedures himself, but McNamara taught him everything he knew about carriere appliances.

"It got to the point where he could diagnose a treatment plan in this very constricted area...as well as I could," McNamara said. "He really understood what it was that I was trying to figure out."

McNamara was so confident in Cheeseman's abilities that they co-authored an article on the carriere appliance -- the first one ever written looking at real patients and how the appliance worked.

"This is not just another paper to give to a football player a leg up as far as going to dental school," McNamara said. "Camaron really took this seriously."

Once someone can prove they have the mental fortitude to succeed in the field, the next quality they need is good hand skills. Given that most of Cheeseman's work for McNamara was done on the computer, it is hard for him to say how good Cheeseman's hands are. There are, however, parts of the dental aptitude test that measure a person's spatial awareness and understanding how to work in three dimensions.

The only measurements to go off are how he performed on the field, and those results show he is better than most. His snap accuracy was 84.7% at Michigan, and after doing extensive research on Cheeseman, head coach Ron Rivera praised his consistency.

"Talking to our special teams coaches, who went out and did a lot of research on these guys, we felt this was one of the young men we wanted to target," Rivera said. "We also felt that we had to get him in the sixth round because if not, somebody else might have taken him."

McNamara grouped the final two qualities together: there needs to be outstanding interpersonal skills and a great work ethic. Cheeseman is a modest person, McNamara said, and behind that modesty is real sincerity. He also worked well with McNamara's staff, which has always been a key criteria for students who work in his office. That, along with his ability to give diagnoses so quickly, has stood out to McNamara the most.

There were other things McNamara noticed about Cheeseman that made it clear he cared about the field and was willing to put in the right amount of work. Most of it involved subtle actions that Cheeseman did subconsciously, such as his tone of voice and how eyes looked when talking about the subject. McNamara pays attention to those small details because someone's body language can tell him how interested they are in the field. Cheeseman easily passed that test.

"He's just been so enthusiastic, and I don't mean superficially enthusiastic," McNamara said. "I think his interest is very deep and sincere."

McNamara knew, however, that football was Cheeseman's true love, so he offered some advice: do whatever makes sense and pursue whatever he truly cares about. Because Cheeseman can always reapply to dental school. He would have to catch up on some of the things he missed out on, but McNamara does not foresee a problem with that.

"It's all doable," McNamara said. "He has the energy level."

Cheeseman is in a rare position where he can pursue two dreams. No matter how long he plays, he has another life after football waiting for him when the time comes. And just like his football career, there is potential for him to be just as successful in orthodontics.

"I'm really interested to see what happens," McNamara said.

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