Ohio State freshmen have to prove themselves with a black helmet stripe before they can make an impact with a scarlet one, and as the season’s kickoff approaches under unusual circumstances, the freshmen depth is needed now more than ever.
The tradition of shedding the black stripe dates back to former head coach Urban Meyer’s arrival to the program in 2012 and is a rite of passage for all Buckeye freshmen, proving that they belong in the Ohio State program.
With the Big Ten football season reinstated Sept. 12, head coach Ryan Day said they would begin the process of taking the black stripes off, which is still ongoing.
“(Assistant athletic director of player development) Ryan Stampers said, ‘It’s about time to get these black stripes off,’” Day said Sept. 17 on the “Ryan Day Show” on 97.1 The Fan. “I said, ‘Well, we’ve got a season so we might as well start doing it.’”
The first freshman to earn the honor this season was wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who had his black stripe removed Sept. 21.
Joining Smith-Njigba as wideouts to lose their black stripes were Gee Scott Jr., who lost his Sept. 23, and Julian Fleming who shed his Sept. 26.
Day said that the freshmen Buckeye receiving corps have shown their potential in practice to this point.
“The young guys have really shown out, seeing some of those guys come in and step in,” Day said.
The unit that has been tasked with covering the young wide receivers have also seen the youth step up.
In a largely unproven secondary, Day said that defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has done well developing the unit.
In terms of a young player that can make an impact, Day said freshman safety Kourt Williams has “shown early on.”
“Kourt Williams is a young guy who I think has a chance to be a really, really good player here,” Day said. “His approach has been excellent. He’s versatile — he can do a lot of things. So that’s someone to keep an eye on.”
Williams had his black stripe removed Sept. 21.
Freshman safety Lathan Ransom and freshman cornerback Cameron Martinez also joined Williams as defensive backs to lose their black stripes with Ransom losing his Oct. 3 and Martinez Oct. 7.
Defensive lineman Ty Hamilton is the only non-secondary defensive freshman to lose his black stripe to this point, shedding his black stripe Sept. 26.
Joining the program as a defensive end, Hamilton has been pushed to the inside and is playing the 3-technique. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said that Hamilton has adjusted well to his new position.
“Ty has been doing well,” Johnson said. “I like where he’s at as a young player. He’s still in the development stage but he’s really done a good job since he’s gotten here.”
Hamilton has had to compete against two offensive linemen who have also shed their black stripes this preseason. Josh Fryar shed his black stripe Oct. 3, while Paris Johnson Jr. lost his Oct. 7.
In the backfield, Ohio State will be led by redshirt sophomore Master Teague and graduate transfer Trey Sermon.
Adding to the talent and depth of the group is freshman Miyan Williams, who lost his black stripe Oct. 3.
Running backs coach Tony Alford joked that the “two and a half feet tall” Miyan Williams has shown toughness so far as a Buckeye.
“He will put his face on you. He’s a high-collision guy. He doesn’t mind contact — runs hard,” Alford said Oct. 6 in a Zoom call. “I’m pleased with him and where he’s going.”
Alford said it took him time to grasp the playbook but has come a long way recently.
In terms of the reliance on Miyan Williams or some of the other freshmen on the roster, Day emphasized that this year will not be like most years.
“If somebody tests positive, they’re really not able to play for 21 days, so that’s a significant amount of time — three games,” Day said. “We have to be able to build depth and that’s going to be critically important moving forward is making sure the second and thirds are ready to roll more than ever.”