From football neophyte to receiver to linebacker, Josh Forrest lands in NFL

"He plays fast ... [and] has this tenacity to him," Rams GM Les Snead said of Josh Forrest. "He will go up and hit you, for a former basketball player." Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Josh Forrest's football journey started on a basketball court.

Two years into his time at Tilghman High in Kentucky, Forrest had eyes only for hoops. It was his first love and where he'd already established himself as a potential star in the basketball-mad Bluegrass state.

But when basketball wasn't in season, Forrest found himself searching for something to do. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he turned to football. Six years later, Forrest finds himself entering the NFL as a 250-pound inside linebacker taken in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

It's a story even Forrest has trouble believing.

“I am just in shock right now," Forrest said moments after he was drafted. "I started off just trying to do something with my time away from basketball season. So football was the thing I chose to do. One of my best friends talked me into playing. I just fell in love with it from there.”

It didn't hurt Forrest's burgeoning passion for football that he easily took to the game. In his first season on the field, Forrest earned honorable mention all-state honors as a wide receiver and defensive back. A year later, he was first-team all-state and earned a scholarship to Kentucky.

When Forrest arrived in Lexington, he was a 205-pound wide receiver hoping to excel in the Wildcats' wide-open offense. Halfway through a redshirt season, he moved to a hybrid linebacker/safety position similar to what the Rams have done with Mark Barron in recent seasons. Forrest soon moved to weakside linebacker but was then asked to move inside to replace Avery Williamson, whom the Tennessee Titans picked in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.

“After he left, my position was wide open," Forrest said. "Coach asked me if I thought I could do it and I told him, ‘I can do whatever you need me to do.’ It just worked out that way.”

All of the moving around meant Forrest needed to add bulk to his frame. To that end, Forrest says he just started eating as much as he could without paying attention to what, exactly, he was eating. In his words, he put on a bunch of "bad weight" before working with the team's nutritionist on a better plan.

On the field, Forrest became a starter in his junior season. He went on to lead the team in tackles in his final two seasons. He finished his career with 232 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and five interceptions.

Despite a disappointing showing at the NFL scouting combine, Forrest drew the Rams' attention not only for what he did on the field but how he might project moving forward.

"He was [all] basketball, wide receiver in high school," Rams general manager Les Snead said. "Kentucky signs him as an athlete. He probably starts as a safety, ends up at linebacker. He plays fast, didn’t run as fast at the combine, but has this tenacity to him. He will go up and hit you, for a former basketball player."

With the Rams, Forrest's path to the roster will have to come via special teams. He has experience in that regard, playing on kickoff, punt, kickoff-return and punt-return units for the Wildcats. If Forrest can find a way to stick on the roster in his first year, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of other recent Kentucky linebackers who were taken in later rounds or undrafted.

He points to players like Williamson, Danny Trevathan (sixth round) and Wesley Woodyard (undrafted) as examples from his alma mater who have made the most of their opportunities.

“When I switched over, [Trevathan] went to the NFL, he went to the Broncos," Forrest said. "He was undersized. He was like a small linebacker, and I just felt like I was switching over to linebacker weighing 205. So I felt like, I’m a smaller linebacker, too, not height-wise but weight-wise. I tried to give myself some things like, ‘OK, he’s small. I feel like I’m a smaller guy. This is who I want to model my game after.’

“It is definitely a point of pride. I talked with Danny and Bud Dupree about it about two or three days ago, saying how we have been putting out a lot of linebackers. We like to call it LBU.”

Now, Forrest will have a chance to add another name to that growing list, however improbable it might have seemed just a half-dozen years ago.

“I really can’t even explain … like goose bumps," Forrest said of being drafted. "Everybody in the house had goose bumps. ... That’s unbelievable almost. You hardly ever see receivers turning into linebackers and pan out to be NFL players.”