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Ronnie Hickman, Mohamoud Diabate thrilled to make team but know work’s only getting started

As roster cuts were being made Tuesday, safety Ronnie Hickman flashed back to draft weekend in April. He didn’t get a call during the seven rounds despite being a fixture at Ohio State for two years, leaving him with an uphill climb to make an NFL team.

He knew the phone would ring this time … one way or the other.

“I want to say around like 10:30 in the morning,” Hickman said last week. “I was laying in bed. I knew the call was coming at some point. It kind of felt like draft day all over again, I was joking with my family.”

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Pretty soon they were celebrating, the joy sweeter after going undrafted.

“Extremely special,” he said. “A lot of emotions. So just kind of using those emotions to drive me and help me get to the point to where I’m at now.”

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A spot on the initial 53-man regular-season roster was the first goal, but Hickman realizes he can’t relax. The roster changes throughout the year, so nothing’s guaranteed.

“The rent’s due every day, for real,” he said. “So it’s a small sigh, but … you gotta earn it every day.”

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Linebacker Mohamoud Diabate has traveled a similar path to Hickman’s and shares a mindset. He got the good-news call from general manager Andrew Berry as he relaxed in the hotel.

“He told me he was proud of me,” said Diabate, who wasn’t drafted out of the University of Utah. “Initial reaction was just happiness. Just really excited to get to work. It’s not really too big of a celebration, in my opinion. It’s just, yes, now I have the opportunity to keep going, keep working, keep improving, keep doing what I plan on doing in this league.

“So as long as I keep my mindset on improving every day and becoming a better football player, a better teammate, being better at every aspect of the game, everything will be all right.”

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Diabate and Hickman trusted their agents with the negotiations that led them to Cleveland after the disappointment of not being drafted. The Browns jumped on the chance to sign them.

“We were really excited about getting both,” assistant general manager/vice president of player personnel Glenn Cook said. “It’s the wild, wild West post-draft, so you’ve got to be aggressive with anybody that you’re interested in. And those two, we definitely put our gas down on the pedal to acquire them.”

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He credited the college scouts with identifying them as quality prospects.

“They did a great job of putting us in position to be ready post-draft to sign guys like Mohamoud and Ronnie and we saw the talent, we saw the potential and then they came here and they performed,” Cook said. “So it started with them and just the coaching staff doing a great job of getting those guys ramped up, putting them in position to make plays and then ultimately they did it.”

Browns linebacker Mohamoud Diabate is shown before a preseason game vs. the Eagles on Aug. 17 in Philadelphia.
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Hickman and Diabate showed up throughout training camp but caught the eye and earned the affection of fans by making big plays in the preseason. Hickman (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) had three interceptions, and Diabate (6-4, 225) made a tackle in the end zone for a safety vs. the Eagles and added a forced fumble.

“This game is about opportunity,” Hickman said. “You never know when your number’s called, but when your number’s called, you got to make the play, and not only for yourself but for your teammates.”

Hickman and Diabate are behind veterans on the defensive depth chart but could see the field right away on special teams. They wouldn’t have made the team without being able to contribute in the kicking game.

“If I’m being honest, the most important,” said Hickman, who predicted a national championship for the Buckeyes. “Whenever you’re on the field, you want to make a play and allow the coaches to trust you and the players to trust you. So whenever you get a chance, you got to make the most of it.”

The lesson was taught by veteran safety Rodney McLeod, who’s in his 12th season after going undrafted. Safety D’Anthony Bell is another source of inspiration after making it as an undrafted rookie last year.

“A big thing that I’m fortunate to be a part of was just being able to be a sponge to a guy like Rodney, a guy with a lot of years and experience under his belt and luckily he was willing to share it all,” Hickman said. “Whether it was questions just off the field, on the field. He was a guy who was an open book.

“I was right in D’Anthony’s ear, just because he came from it. He did the exact same thing I did. So he’s been a huge help, as well.”

A quick mindset reset was required after the shock and sadness of not getting drafted, as Hickman understood his goals were still attainable.

“A hundred percent,” he said. “Things happened quick and there’s still a lot of people who would kill to be in the shoes that I was in, being an undrafted guy. So once you think about it from that perspective and realize that you got a chance to do something 1 percent got to do and realize that it’s a blessing, it kind of worked out.”

Diabate quickly settled in and loves “everything about being a Cleveland Brown.”

“So I was really happy to know that that was going to continue,” he said. “Very happy to have the opportunity to keep showing what I’m about.

“I definitely appreciate all the Cleveland fans having my back and wanting me to represent this team. That means a lot. So love and respect to all of them, all the Cleveland Browns fans around the nation.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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