While running back TreVeyon Henderson gets most of the attention following his 277-yard and three-touchdown outburst against Tulsa on Sept. 18, he’s not the only true freshman that has made an impact for Ohio State this fall.
In fact, cornerback Denzel Burke has started all five games for the Buckeyes, becoming the first true freshman to start a season-opener on defense since former linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer in 1996.
Defensive tackle Tyleik Williams, meanwhile, has recorded four sacks on the year, including one that went for a 17-yard loss and ended any chances of the Golden Hurricane pulling an upset that afternoon.
Quarterback Kyle McCord also got in on the action, as he threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns against Akron while starting in place of an injured C.J. Stroud and was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week as a result.
And that’s just a small sample, as 18 of the 23 members of Ohio State’s 2021 recruiting class have earned playing time thus far, including former five-star defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, who met with the media for the first time in the careers on Wednesday night.
“It’s not really a surprise if you look at our class, how they came in and played in the spring and the type of guys we have in our class,” Sawyer said. “TreVeyon probably takes football more serious than any guy I’ve ever been around for our age. We kind of saw flashes in the spring. Every time he got the ball, we were like, ‘Is this going to be an 80-yard touchdown run like last time?’ Denzel Burke was locking guys up in the spring and locking guys up all fall camp, too.”
Sawyer, who was the third-highest rated prospect in a class that finished atop SI All-American’s team rankings, has recorded just five tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and one pass break ups in his first five games. But he also noted that seeing other freshmen make plays only pushes him to be better, too.
“It excites us all to see the rest of our class starting to play well and shine in a lot of moments in big-time games,” Sawyer said. “It kind of just motivates us all because, here in a couple years, it’s going to be our class’ team. We just have to keep grinding and keep working.”
Another thing that drives this group is the fact that several of them did not play their senior seasons of high school due to the pandemic, which also prevented them from taking recruiting visits or meeting in person until they all arrived on campus.
But then again, technology like FaceTime and Zoom allowed them to become extremely close from afar, and Sawyer thinks that will only pay dividends down the road.
“We’ve got a real tight-knit group of young guys,” Sawyer said. “It’s a lot of fun to be around a group as tight as we are. Between the young guys on the defense and the offensive side of the ball, it’s going to be scary for the next couple of years. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“What I like about this class is we’re grinders. We all like to get in the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center), we all like to work out and we’re all really focused on football. It’s good to be around a group of guys like that.”
Tuimoloau, who said he's exceeded his personal expectations this year after only arriving on campus in mid-July, also believes he and the other freshmen can leave a lasting legacy at Ohio State.
“It’s such a true honor and blessing to be a part of this class,” Tuimoloau said. “Who knows, we could do a lot of special things with this crew.”
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