Freshman Open Eyes At OSU
COLUMBUS, Ohio – One comes from the Lone Star State, the other from Down Under.
Both first-year players arrived at Ohio State recently, but now find themselves in the middle of things as the Buckeyes prep for their season opener.
The most talked-about player in fall camp has been a smallish freshman running back out of DeSoto, Texas, named Dontre Wilson. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name a lot this season.
“We’ve got new guys coming in, new guys who can make plays,” quarterback Braxton Miller said, referring to Wilson and others, including Aussie punter Cameron Johnston.
Wilson has breakneck speed, zigs and zags through traffic and has a penchant for making defenders hug air.
“I think I did pretty good,” he said of his first week in camp. “I just worked really hard, ran fast and showed everybody the ability that I have and the assets that I can bring to the team. I guess everybody saw it.”
They saw it, all right.
Here’s coach Urban Meyer on Wilson: “He’s got something that we didn’t have last year and that’s just jets. … And he doesn’t care. He just goes hard.”
Wide receiver Evan Spencer is fast. But he has had his eyes opened by Wilson: “Man, I’m going to tell you, that little joker right there is quick. He’s so explosive. You never know where he’s going to go, what kind of move he’s going to make.”
Linebacker Joshua Perry has yet to meet Wilson head to head on a play. But he’s seen him shred others on defense: “He is one elusive son of a gun. The kid is all over the field. He makes cuts on a dime. He’s fast.”
Wilson, who is 5-foot-10 and 174 pounds, will likely stay at running back, although he could see some time at the hybrid, or H back, spot.
He’s even good at inventing new words to describe his talents.
“I always thought I belonged out there,” he said. “I always thought I could play with them. But I had a few good plays that showed my speed and my cut-ability.”
Johnston came to the attention of Ohio State’s coaching staff when he contacted the school with videos of his punting ability. He had spent one year at Deakin University before attending the Melbourne-based punter/kicker training school Prokick Australia.
Since the Buckeyes lost Ben Buchanan to graduation, they had a vacancy. So they took a flyer on the former track and cricket athlete and Australian Rules Football player. Now he’s the starter.
“Isn’t that an amazing story?” special teams coach Kerry Coombs said. “We went through an awful lot of connections and conversations and hard work and I spent an awful lot of time learning to speak Australian, which is remarkably different from English. We found a kid who I believe is truly special.”
Meyer is as surprised as anyone about finding Johnston.
“He’s a tremendous kid, 21 years old, so he’s not that 17-year-old, wide-eyed guy that looks at you like, ‘What planet am I on?'” he said. “He’s a fast athlete, so we might be able to do some things with him, moving the pocket and so forth.”
Well versed in the rules of American-style football due to education at the training school, Johnston, who has four full years of eligibility, is fitting in quite nicely.
“It’s not too bad,” he said. “Australia and the U.S. are pretty similar, so there’s not too many differences. And Columbus is such a nice place.”
Lots of other freshmen are having an impact, particularly on defense where Ohio State lost all four linemen, two linebackers and a corner from last year’s 12-0 season.
Joey Bosa, Michael Hill, Billy Price and Tyquan Lewis up front, Mike Mitchell at linebacker and Vonn Bell, Cam Burrows and Eli Apple in the secondary are all making contributions.
Junior Michael Bennett is penciled in as a starter on the defensive line. He can’t believe what he’s seen out of the first-year players.
“I don’t see a young D-lineman who isn’t really good,” he said. “I’m trying to think back to when I was a freshman and these guys I feel are on a whole ‘nother level than I was. They’re smart, they’re really talented and they’re really picking stuff up quick and they have an intensity that’s really good.”