The Scarlet Water

By Kyle Rowland on October 11, 2012 at 10:00a

Sharks remain one of the single biggest curiosities in the world. Whether you’re from the United States, South Africa or Australia, chances are you have an interest in the species of animal that humans perceive as the most vicious. 

Ready, set, go.

They’ve become such a talking point that the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” has aired for 25 years and gained a cult following in the process. The weeklong program is now aired in 72 countries.

But there’s an even bigger killing machine in waters of South America: piranhas.

That’s the persona the Ohio State kickoff coverage unit has taken on. Not necessarily the killing, but the swarming and takedown ability that piranhas exhibit – and smallness.

Through the first six games of the season, the unit was known as the “Sharks.” But on Sunday as cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, also the overseer of the coverage unit, watched film of the Buckeyes’ 63-38 win over Nebraska, he noticed that nearly every person running down to cover kicks was under 6-feet tall. Thus came the nickname “piranhas.”

“They can't be sharks yet, because they're this tall," Coombs said with his hand four to five feet off the ground. “They have to be piranhas. We like to say that when they go after a guy with the ball, it's like sharks to blood. But with this group, they're like piranhas. Just because they’re midgets.”

One drop of blood can trigger a Great White Shark’s sense of smell from three miles away. It can inhabit the blood-filled waters within minutes. Piranhas are similar, becoming agitated at the first inclination of blood nearby.

In 1913, former president Theodore Roosevelt traveled to the Amazon Rainforest and saw firsthand the fierceness of piranhas. Upon his return to the United States he wrote a book titled, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness.”

In it he referred to piranhas as “the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks…usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves…they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness.”

The same can be said for the 11 Buckeyes – yes, even kicker Drew Basil – that take the field after every Ohio State score. From 65 yards away, they engage the ball carrier with a ferocity that is more grizzly than piranha.

“When they say ‘piranhas,’ it’s something that we all have to keep us together. It’s a really cool nickname that we all just take pride in,” freshman cornerback Armani Reeves said. “We’re going to play it like piranhas. We’re going to play fast, nasty and just get down the field as fast as we can.”

The leader of the Piranhas.

One thing is certain: they saw blood in the water against Nebraska. Facing one of the top kick returners in the country in Ameer Abdullah, the piranhas never let the Huskers start a drive past the Nebraska 25-yard line and three started no better than the 15.

The strategy Ohio State employed actually called for maximum hang time but no touchbacks. The goal was to stop the ball carries shy of the 15- or 20-yard line.

“We’re not the biggest guys out there compared to a lot of the other kickoff teams,” Reeves said. “But we’re fast, we’re strong and we’re hungry. And we play like that.”

Abdullah distinguished himself last season as an explosive kick returner, bringing one back all the way. He averaged nearly 30 yards per return and ranked ninth in the country. In Nebraska’s come-from-behind win two weeks ago, Abdullah averaged over 28 yards a return and gave the Huskers great field position all night.

He had 142 yards in just five kick returns against Wisconsin, while the Buckeyes limited him to 128 yards in eight returns, an average of 16 yards.

“Our kickoff team did a really good job for us,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “That was impressive. That was a very good kick returner.”

Ohio State’s kickoff return defense ranks 38th in the country. It’s allowing less than 20 yards per return with 11 touchbacks. The unquestioned leader of the group is Zach Domicone. The senior safety helped on two tackles Saturday and has four stops on the season.

“You’re talking about a senior who is surrounded by all these freshmen, and they don’t know what they don’t know,” Coombs said. “He’s starting to gather them up before they take the field. He’s trying to take some of the leadership of that group and inspire them and motivate them.”

Part of Ohio State’s success can be traced to that non-traditional strategy. With the touchback rule being changed this season – the ball is now placed at the 25-yard line – the Buckeyes have taken a different approach.

Gone are the days of bashing the ball through the end zone. Instead, the Buckeyes are giving opponents the opportunity to return a kick for a touchdown. But Basil’s orders are to put the ball high into the sky and allow his 10 piranhas the chance to run down its prey before an escape is possible.

Brutus Buckeye approves of Drew Basil and the piranhas.

A majority of those dependables are freshmen – Reeves, Devan Bogard, Jamal Marcus, Najee Murray, David Perkins and Camren Williams. Meyer values his special teams units, and the first step to cracking the offensive or defensive rotation is playing on special teams. It’s seen up close with Bradley Roby and Rod Smith as members of the kick coverage team.

“Coach Meyer pays a lot of attention to special teams,” Reeves said. “He really prides himself on having the best special teams in the country.”

Marcus and Adam Griffin lead the unit with six tackles apiece. The next player down the list: Drew Basil. Yes, the kicker has five tackles on the season.

“There’s no room for error,” Domicone said. “You’re not allowed to take a week off.”

Each Thursday the coverage team holds a race that is, by nature, a photo finish. In the spirit of Meyer’s appreciation of special teams, the winner is announced in a ceremony that includes the entire team. The reckless abandon that the kickoff coverage unit displays in that Thursday race spills over into Saturday.

“If we really want to go down and help our defense, it starts with us,” Domicone said. “Field position is an important part of the game, and special teams is an important part of the game. It’s a role that we’ve embraced.”

Coombs, a constant bundle of energy, cringes when he thinks about the inevitability of kickoffs no longer being a part of football. In a concussion sensitive society, kickoffs have become the ugly stepchild of football. Rule changes have occurred at the college and NFL level in recent years to help alleviate head injuries.

But until he’s told players won’t be chasing kick returners, Coombs is going to coach – and he’ll do so enthusiastically.

The Buckeyes have another challenge ahead of them this week. Indiana is 10th in the country in kickoff returns. The Hoosiers have returned one for a touchdown and average more 28 yards per return. Basil will be getting air under the ball, letting his red-bellied Buckeyes get down the field to harass the IU returner.

“They’re fun to coach,” Coombs said. “They’re not perfect and they make a lot of mistakes. But they play really, really hard. They’re going to be factors in games

“And that’s important.”


Comments Show All Comments

bodast67's picture

Coombs said. “They’re not perfect and they make a lot of mistakes. But they play really, really hard. 

      My favorite line in the story. Good work again Kyle.




     " I hope when I die, I die laughing"...                

Mix's picture

The most exciting play in football. I love watching this coverage team fly down the field, they really get after it.


20sider's picture

Have to say that the single thing that worried me the most about playing Nebraska was Abdullah taking one to the house and swinging momentum with long returns.
Well done pirahnas!


cinserious's picture

Yeah, lots of freshmen on that coverage team. They are laying the foundation for what will be the country's superior special teams units within a couple years. Plus some freshmen defensive guys are getting thier feet wet also, which will help provide depth in years to come.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

grant87's picture

I hope they become The Baracudas.  Nice story thanks.

Maybe tomorrow, when today will be yesterday things will be clearer.


M Man's picture

I hate to tell you...
We are developing a new strain of Piranha.  The size of aircraft carriers.  Flying Piranhas, the size of aircraft carriers.  Flying Pirhanas the size of aircrat carriers that F-16's bounce off, broken, and into the water.  Megapiranhas.  Coming November 24 to a Stadium near you.

unknownmusketeer's picture

Calling Brady Hoke a Mega-Piranha is apt.  Never get between him and the buffet.  Regardless, he can't play anyway.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Not sure about that. Piranhas work as a team and I doubt Hoke would want a hundred other MegaPiranhas sharing his food. 

BuckeyeInOrlando's picture

Hoke is more like a whale. Swooping by with an open mouth, and eating anything in his way...

OSUBias's picture

Bigger is always better in Hokeland, huh?

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

45OH4IO's picture

Hahaha. Nice. "They were created to save mankind. Something went wrong." I'm going to look up the plotline now to see how a Megapirahna can save mankind. And "Megapiranha" was the theme for this year's Hoke family reunion. Brady brought meat loaf.

BuckGuy003's picture

bahaha this is great. Cant wait for to ruin his appetite!

BuckeyeInOrlando's picture

No, he was supposed to bring meatloaf... by the time he got there, all he had was an empty dish and ketchup stains on his "tuxedo" t-shirt...

CALPOPPY's picture

What's awesome is that Tiffany is the lead in the movie. 

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

BucksfanXC's picture

I will upvote anyone who posts a relevant picture in a thread. I like pictures.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

M Man's picture

My thinking was that a picture was worth a thousand piranhas.

William's picture

Watched this with my girlfriend last year. It was a Saturday (Sunday morning) night and was around 2 am. We were both a tad bit inebriated. Was absolutely horrible but led to a lot of laughs. 

Alhan's picture

"Just because they're midgets."

Perhaps not the most PC comment in the world, but Coombs tagging that on to the end of his explanation on the piranhas nickname made me chuckle. Probably because they're still all taller than me!

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

Boxley's picture

Speaking of being PC, could they have not found a more complimentary photo of Zack, I mean really, his "camel toe" is showing.
I too think its weird that that thought even occurred to me.
But having buckeye dementia can lead one down some strange thought trails.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

theDuke's picture

m man. i don't mind you, but... FAIL.


M Man's picture

I upvoted you.  It was the right thing to do.

toad1204's picture

Everytime I hear his name I think of the picture with his scrunched up face and hair all crazy.  Now add a lab coat and he's a mad scientist working create the perfect MegaPirahna.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

Boxley's picture

For those of you were/are in the military, we lost another hero this week. For all Americans a little information about true heroes. this guy was a true Megapirahna.
Reported 10 October 2012.

Basil Plumley, retired veteran whose book became 'We Were Soldiers' movie, dies in Georgia
COLUMBUS, Ga. – Basil L. Plumley, a renowned career soldier whose exploits as an Army infantryman were portrayed in a book and the movie "We Were Soldiers," has died at 92 -- an age his friends are amazed that he lived to see.
Plumley fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam and was awarded a medal for making five parachute jumps into combat. The retired command sergeant major died Wednesday.
Friends said Plumley, who died in hospice care in west Georgia, never told war stories and was known to hang up on people who called to interview him. Still, he was near-legendary in the Army and gained more widespread fame through a 1992 Vietnam War book that was the basis for the 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. Actor Sam Elliott played Plumley in the film.
Plumley didn't need a Hollywood portrayal to be revered among soldiers, said Greg Camp, a retired Army colonel and former chief of staff at neighboring Fort Benning who befriended Plumley in his later years.
"He's iconic in military circles," Camp said. "Among people who have been in the military, he's beyond what a movie star would be. ... His legend permeates three generations of soldiers."
Debbie Kimble, Plumley's daughter, said her father died from cancer after spending about nine days at Columbus Hospice. Although the illness seemed to strike suddenly, Kimble said Plumley's health had been declining since his wife of 63 years, Deurice Plumley, died last May on Memorial Day.
A native of Shady Spring, W.Va., Plumley enlisted in the Army in 1942 and ended up serving 32 years in uniform. In World War II, he fought in the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno and the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He later fought with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Korea. In Vietnam, Plumley served as sergeant major -- the highest enlisted rank -- in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
"That puts him in the rarest of clubs," said journalist Joseph L. Galloway, who met Plumley while covering the Vietnam War for United Press International and remained lifelong friends with him. "To be combat infantry in those three wars, in the battles he participated in, and to have survived -- that is miraculous."
It was during Vietnam in November 1965 that Plumley served in the Battle of la Drang, the first major engagement between the U.S. Army and North Vietnamese forces. That battle was the basis for the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young," written nearly three decades later by Galloway and retired Lt. Gen. Hal G. Moore, who had been Plumley's battalion commander in Vietnam.
In the 2002 film version, Mel Gibson played Moore and Elliott played Plumley. Galloway said several of Elliott's gruff one-liners in the movie were things Plumley actually said, such as the scene in which a soldier tells the sergeant major good morning and is told: "Who made you the (expletive) weather man?"
"Sam Elliott underplayed him. He was actually tougher than that," Galloway said. "He was gruff, monosyllabic, an absolute terror when it came to enforcing standards of training."
That's not to say he was mean or inhuman, Galloway said. "This was a man above all else who had a very big, warm heart that he concealed very well."
Plumley retired with the rank command sergeant major in 1974 at Fort Benning, his last duty station. He then took a civilian job doing administrative work for the next 15 years at Martin Army Community Hospital.
Camp said Plumley remained strong until just a few weeks before his death. He helped open the Army's National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning in 2009. Camp, who now works for the museum's fundraising foundation, said Plumley helped him get Elliott to come narrate a ceremony dedicating the parade ground outside the museum. When Camp mentioned the actor's name, Plumley handed him Elliott's cellphone number.
After Plumley became ill, Galloway mentioned his worsening condition on Facebook. Fans of the retired sergeant major responded with a flood of cards and letters. The day before he died in hospice, Camp said, Plumley received about 160 pieces of mail.
"He was dad to me when I was growing up," said Kimble, Plumley's daughter. "We are learning every day about him. He was an inspiration to so many. He was a great person, and will always be remembered."
RIP, SGM Plumley, thank you for all you have done, for so many.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

thatlillefty's picture

One of my favorite football memories was running into the kickoff huddle as a freshmen after one of our corners had just scored pick 6 and was too gased to do so himself. The coach was hesitant but said alright. I sprinted down the field like my hair was on fire, and wouldn't you know, ran straight into the ball carrier thus securing my spot on kickoff team for the rest of HS.
As a scout team all-star and nothing more on Fridays, being a part of the kick off team was pretty awesome and I savored every opportunity to get on the field and make a tackle. I'm guessing it's a similar feeling for guys like Zach Domincone.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I tried to run some quick numbers to find out how Ohio State's KR defense ranks if we based it on opponents' average starting field position after KOs.
I don't think I have the right methodology, though, because I'm guessing that KO return yardage totals are based on where the returner catches the ball to where he is tackled? Thus, if a kicker squibs it to the 17-yard line and the returner brings it back to the 32-yard line (a 15-yard return), on paper, that's treated the same as if the kicker dropped it at the goal line and returner only makes it back to the 15 yard line? 
Anyway, not accounting for the above problem, Ohio State ranks 28th in terms of "return" yardage allowed per kick (I assumed that touchbacks = 25 yard "returns" and out-of-bounds kickoffs = 35 yard "returns"). 
Better would be to go back into all the boxscores and tally up the average starting field position after kickoffs for the opponents' of all 120 teams - but that would be a lot of work. Is that available anywhere?

jrich612's picture

I don't think returners get credited with any yards for touchbacks or OB kicks, but I could be wrong. It seems odd to give a guy yardage that he didn't earn. 

Grayskullsession's picture

Coombs is very candid, and thats what makes him so great. The piranhas will feast a grand feast of wolverine on Nov 24th.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

Johnniebuckeye's picture

Boxley,  Thanks so much for the info. We pray for all those who serve our country and men like  Plumley are the fabric that clothes this great country.  Praise God and Go Bucks.