Ask Natrell Jamerson if he knew the NFL was where he wanted to end up, and he's quick to answer in the affirmative.
"Always knew it," he told HERO Sports. "Ever since I was little I always dreamed to play in the NFL."
The 6-foot, 198-pound safety exploded onto the scene for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2017, playing a new position and catching the eye of draft scouts. With the NFL Combine just days away, Jamerson told HERO Sports each step in the pre-draft process is another step toward that dream to put on an NFL jersey and run out onto an NFL field on a Sunday afternoon.
"Playing in college, you inch closer and closer to it and after your senior season is over, it's like, 'that's the next step,'" Jamerson said. "It's like the closer the draft and the combine get, it's surreal because these are things I've always just dreamed of."
The first step in that dream took place back in November of 2013 when Jamerson took a visit to the University of Wisconsin and committed to the program four days later, becoming a member of the recruiting Class of 2014.
Jamerson recalled his visit to Wisconsin fondly, saying the Badgers players "treated me as if I was already on the team being my first time meeting them, they were all cool," and noted "Getting a degree from the University of Wisconsin, there's not too much better than that."
A three-star prospect out of Ocala, Florida (about 80 miles northwest of Orlando), Jamerson — who was recruited as a wide receiver — had a few offers from local schools like FIU and Jacksonville and drew the interest of Vanderbilt, but Wisconsin gave him the opportunity to go discover something different.
"The big decision for me was getting away from home," Jamerson said. "None of the big schools in Florida offered me but I got offers from smaller schools like FIU, so I really wanted to get away and kind of experience what the world has to offer."
Jamerson joined a class that went on to become the winningest senior class in Wisconsin football history. The group of seniors — Jack Cichy, Garret Dooley, Joe Ferguson, Lubern Figaro, Troy Fumagalli, Rachid Ibrahim, Leon Jacobs, Jamerson, Alec James, Chikwe Obasih, Austin Ramesh, Conor Sheehy and Derrick Tindal — went 45-10 overall and 29-5 in Big Ten games during their Wisconsin tenure, winning 11 of 12 rivalry games, registering four straight 10-plus win seasons, going to and winning four straight bowl games, and earning three Big Ten West Division titles.
Jamerson said that success stemmed from the brotherhood that group of players built on and off of the field.
"I can say that our team, especially senior year, we were really close," he said. "I think that transferred onto the field. Knowing that you've got your brother's back off the field and you've definitely got his back on the field, so he's not going to want to let anybody down. I feel like the togetherness that we had as a team, that was outstanding."
There was no red shirt for Jamerson, who played 12 games his freshman year at wide receiver, seeing action mostly on special teams. As a sophomore in 2015 he found a niche as the Badgers primary kick returner, playing in all 13 games and totaling 448 return yards on 20 returns (22.4 yard average), bringing one kick back 98 yards for a touchdown on the road at Maryland.
His junior year brought about some change as he made the transition from wide receiver to cornerback, and made his first career starts at nickel back. He continued to return kicks at times and totaled 19 tackles and four passes defended on the season.
Senior year brought one more change as Jamerson shifted again to safety, where he started all 14 games for the Badgers. He totaled 51 tackles and 12 passes defended, and intercepted a pair of passes — both against Northwestern — returning one 36 yards for a touchdown.
His performance his senior season earned him All-Big Ten honorable mention status and added another piece to his NFL resume. Jamerson said his versatility to play multiple positions and the willingness he's shown to play special teams is a selling point when he meets with scouts and coaches.
"A lot of guys, especially if they're starting, they're not really playing on special teams," he said. "I feel like my ability to play all these different positions will speak to teams that if, god forbid, if a guy goes down and gets hurt, they can throw me in there and they know I can handle it. I feel like my versatility and experience at different positions will help boost my stock with these teams."
In addition to playing multiple positions, the Badgers endured several coaching changes during Jamerson's time in Madison. Gary Andersen coached the team when he arrived and Paul Chryst took over two years ago, and Jamerson had different defensive coordinators as the Badgers transitioned from Dave Aranda to Justin Wilcox to Jim Leonhard. Jamerson enjoyed the opportunity to get different perspectives on the game of football.
"I took it as a bonus, taking coaching from all these different people, of course they all had different mindsets but had the same goals in mind," he said. "Taking different coaching from different people over the years, it sets in your mind that there's more than one way to do one thing."
Jamerson noted the experience and creativity Leonhard brought to the team when he was hired as the defensive backs coach in 2016 and took over as defensive coordinator before last season.
"Especially with coach Leonhard, when he came in, I had the opportunity to be coached by coach Leonhard for two years, and he always brought up new ideas and new techniques and new ways to think about things, with him doing that these past two years, it was a great benefit not just for me but for the whole defense in general," Jamerson said. "Coach Leonhard, of course he coached the defensive backs, but he had pointers for d-linemen, linebackers, he would even coach the receivers sometimes and try to tell them how to beat us. In practice, we're all getting good work but in the game it's a lot easier for them because they know that we're going to give them the best that we've got in practice so when they get in the game and go against other people, it will be a lot easier for them. It was stuff like that, coach Leonhard, he was a great teacher."
Jamerson said once his own pre-draft process slows down and Leonhard's recruiting schedule gets lighter, he's looking forward to the opportunity to talk to his coach about the 10 years he spent in the NFL.
"Of course, when things slow down for me as well I'll talk to him and pick his brain about how things work in the NFL, things to look out for, ways to make it easier for myself at the next level because he played in the NFL for a long time, he was doing things the right way, so if I can take little bits and pieces of what he learned and apply them to my life, I'm pretty sure I can make it pretty far, too."
Jamerson has already knocked out one portion of the pre-draft process with a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game. He made plays in practice, picked the brains of the NFL coaches in charge of the teams, made friends with players from across the country, and then balled out in the actual game, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors after scooping up a lateral on a heads up play and returning the fumble 68 yards for a touchdown.
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But the touchdown and Defensive MVP honor wasn't the best part of the week for Jamerson, who said he enjoyed most the opportunity to meet children at the local Shriners Hospitals for Children
"I feel like when we visited the Shriners Hospital for Children, it was great. It was like a big party," he said. "Just seeing the smiles on the kids' faces and being able to brighten up their day. Some of those kids, they go through some real things that us as adults know we don't want to even think about having to experience. But taking the time out and just making the kids smile and laugh and just playing around with them, it was great. Just seeing how happy and excited they were, they looked at us as if we were superheroes, and we looked at them as if they're the superheroes because they're the ones actually overcoming things in life at a very, very young age. The hospital visit, I enjoyed that the most."
Jamerson's next step on the path to the NFL Draft is the NFL Combine this weekend in Indianapolis, where he will get the opportunity to show off his goods both on and off of the field. It's a moment he's been visualizing for a long time.
"I remember just watching the combine on TV, just saying, 'if I was at the combine, I would run this and I would jump this' and things like that, so being in the position to be able to actually do it, it's a wonderful feeling," he said. "Like I said, it's things I've always dreamed of, and having it right here at my fingertips, I'm seizing every opportunity I can get."
Jamerson said his best attributes are his strength, speed and football I.Q., while he's working on trusting his abilities to limit any second-guessing that can happen in the moment in a football game. He plans to attack the NFL Combine with the same ferocity he would a Saturday 11 a.m. kickoff at Camp Randall.
"My goal is to just to show my personality and to perform the best way that I know how," he said. "Even with all the different meetings and all the different personnel, I just want to show them my confidence in myself. I don't want to get too psyched out by the whole process, meeting with the head coach, general manager and things like that. I just want to go in and show how confident I am in what I know and what I know I can do."
Once he gets onto the field — where most in the Wisconsin media market will tell you they expect his workout numbers to open some eyes — Jamerson said he's going to perform "the best way I know how."
"I know what to do, now all I've got to do is show the world how I do it," he said. "When the lights come on, it's going to be a show."