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Central Grad On Cloud 9 In Nfl

POLK COUNTY -- Jeff Charleston, a 2001 graduate of Central High School, is one happy guy.

POLK COUNTY -- Jeff Charleston, a 2001 graduate of Central High School, is one happy guy.

Charleston made it through the final round of cuts with the NFL Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts and is expected to play when the team makes its season debut Thursday, Sept. 6, at home against the New Orleans Saints.

"It's amazing," Charleston said in a phone interview. "It definitely is a dream come true. It's great to still have a job after that last cut day.

"We practiced on Sunday because we have an early game this week, and I was happy to go to practice."

Charleston spent a long day in his apartment on Saturday, waiting for a call he hoped never would come.

"They'd said they'd call between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. if we were going to be cut," said Charleston, who played football and basketball at Central. "You just don't want them to call you."

He said his phone rang a couple of times, causing him anxiety. "I was a little worried ... I had to check the numbers to make sure they weren't from Indianapolis.

But, "It went good, obviously," he said.

After leaving Central High, Charleston played three seasons at Western Oregon. Then, to get a better chance to play pro ball, he transferred to Idaho State, an NCAA Division I-AA school. He had to sit out a season per NCAA rules.

But the move paid off. He was named the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year as a senior.

Charleston, a lanky 6-foot-5, 255-pounder, tried out last year for the NFL's Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent, but he was cut at the end of the preseason.

He came back to Polk County and lived with his parents, working construction jobs and at Salem Hospital.

Then, the breaks started coming his way.

In December, he got a tryout with the Colts and was impressive enough to earn an invitation to camp this summer.

He continued to do well in training camp, earning glowing reviews from head coach Tony Dungy.

It seems ironic that Charleston was cut by the Texans, one of the worst teams in the NFL, and now has earned a roster spot with the defending champion.

"A lot of it comes down to style and whether or not you're a good fit for that style," he said. "This team's defensive linemen are definitely smaller than most in the NFL. Houston wanted me to come in a lot larger. Here, it feels right - it feels like college again."

Charleston will start the season second on the depth chart at right defensive end behind Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney. He wore No. 60 on his jersey during the preseason, but he will be No. 72 beginning Thursday..

"The NFL definitely is a step faster than college," Charleston said. "There are no weak links. Anything you get, you're going to have to work for. There are freakish athletes who make everybody look bad."

Charleston said his role "will change week-to-week depending on who we play. For Thursday's game, I'm backing up Dwight Freeney. If he gets tired, I'll be ready."

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