During his 96-yard interception return for a touchdown, Damon Arnette realized he had made the right decision to return to Ohio State for a fifth year.
It was the redshirt senior cornerback’s first career touchdown –– a defining moment for the Florida product.
“It was the biggest play of my life,” Arnette said.
After the 2018 season, Arnette had his eyes set on the NFL.
Shortly after the Rose Bowl win against Washington, Arnette didn’t board the team charter flight back to Columbus, but stayed in his room at the InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles hotel. Plans to return for his final year of eligibility were an afterthought.
“I just stayed in my room. When everybody left, I just didn’t get back on the plane,” Arnette said.
He instead headed to his birthplace of Dallas, Texas, where he found an apartment and began training for the NFL.
When many of his teammates came to realize that Arnette was out the door, newly hired co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley reached out to Arnette before he made his final decision and changed Arnette’s outlook.
“I never really had a good feeling to leave. But after talking to him, I had a good feeling to stay,” Arnette said. “After talking to him, I got excited. If I was to leave, everything that’s happening now –– and I’m on the outside looking in –– I would be so sad.”
Hafley’s resume as an assistant coach in the NFL is well documented, as he spent time as defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.
Arnette, who hoped to be selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, was told there was room for improvement.
“I didn’t sell him anything,” Hafley said. “I didn’t promise him anything. I just told him the truth.”
Arnette has been in the Buckeyes’ secondary rotation for three full seasons now but consistency is still something many want to see from the experienced defender.
Three games into the season, the defense has been clicking on all cylinders, limiting opponents to a total of 31 points.
Arnette has started each game and earned Ohio State’s Week 3 Defensive Player of the Week after recording three pass break-ups, three tackles and the pick-six.
Arnette, along with the entire defense, went into the 2019 season with a lot to prove and has lived up to the expectations through those three weeks.
“We’re not into proving people wrong anymore. We’re just into proving ourselves right,” Arnette said.
After a big game against Indiana, Arnette said he is more confident than ever.
He believes his teammates are trending up too.
“There’s a lot more coming from this defense. That’s only the start,” Arnette said.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 6 in the country and have a tough conference schedule that includes Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.
One thing that remains unchanged is their pursuit of a national championship.
“I’m just excited because I think we’re going to win the natty,” Arnette said. “I’m just speaking it into existence.”