PASADENA, Calif. — Coming into the season opener against Oregon State, Ohio State did not have a definitive answer for the pair of safeties it was going to roll with.
While junior team captain Jordan Fuller was the clear No. 1 at free safety, both sophomore Isaiah Pryor and redshirt sophomore Jahsen Wint were labeled as co-starters at strong safety.
By the midway point of the season, neither Pryor nor Wint had established themselves as the reliable No. 2 to Fuller, and Fuller said it affected his ability to find a rhythm.
It took a targeting penalty by Pryor to change that.
After Pryor was ejected for targeting and Wint going down with injury against Nebraska, sophomore safety Brendon White filled in, and almost immediately, his impact was felt.
“All season I couldn’t really get too too comfortable because I was switching sides and all that kind of stuff,” Fuller said. “Now I’m solidified in my position and I’m just happy to see [White] blossoming to the player he is now and I can’t wait to see him play on Tuesday.”
White recorded 13 tackles in a little more than a half of play against the Cornhuskers, and has recorded five tackles in each game since then as the starter alongside Fuller.
For White, it was all about waiting for his opportunity.
“Just patience. I had patience,” White said. “When my opportunity came I tried to take advantage of it, and then from here, with all that momentum I have, I just gotta keep the momentum going.”
While White proved to be the guy to take over at strong safety, it put Wint and Pryor basically out of the game plan. After having three or more tackles in each of the first six games, Wint has three tackles combined over the past five games.
Wint said the safety room as a whole has grown a lot together, but he feels there is a need for some personal improvement.
“I feel like I could have done better. There’s a lot of plays that I want back, but I can’t turn back and get those plays back,” Wint said. “My brothers just kept me up, a lot of my teammates kept me pushing, I do it for them, I just try to continue to improve and work on the things I need to work on.”
Wint, who played linebacker and wide receiver in high school, said he still needs to adapt to his new position. But for now, the position that gave the Buckeyes some of their largest issues early on — giving up big plays off bad angles from the secondary — have a potential solution.
A lot of this has to do with Fuller, who has maintained himself as the rock to a safety position that could have otherwise been a revolving door of players.
Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch knows this. He said Fuller is the leader the safety room needed him to be this season.
“You just have complete confidence he’s gonna be where he needs to be when he needs to be there, and he’s gonna help that individual next to him, the guys in front of him,” Grinch said. “He’s that calming influence on the back end, which is nice to have, and he’s held up very, very well for us.”
Fuller and White have at least one more game together as the starting duo: a matchup against Washington in the Rose Bowl. This will be the fifth game the pair will line up together as starters.
White will be back for another season, but Fuller’s future remains up in the air. He said he won’t have a decision until after the Rose Bowl.
But regardless of Fuller’s decision, a safety room that once was seen as one of the major flaws of the defense has shown consistency to finish the season, showing signs of growth for the future.
Fuller sees this as well.
“I think as a safety room, we’ve grown tremendously, throughout the whole season,” Fuller said. “I know we’ve had different guys next to me all season, but we finally found somebody in Brendon White and, just everybody in their roles have contributed tremendously … I couldn’t be more proud.”