They say coaches and players take on the personality of their head coach. At Ohio State, it’s no different.
For a decade, everyone in the football program was Tresselized. Little was revealed during interviews as players talked in a monotonous tone. The mood changed almost overnight with the arrival of Urban Meyer. Brash and straightforward have replaced quiet and secretive.
On Monday, when cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs was asked the obvious – who will start in place of the suspended Bradley Roby? – he didn’t hesitate with his answer: Armani Reeves. It was prompt and direct.
In describing Reeves, Coombs rattled off characteristics that are a coach’s dream, none including mention of his glorious rattail.
“Incredible offseason, great spring, works really hard, understands the game, very committed, very focused,” Coombs said. “He still has to play. We still have to find out on the 31st.”
Reeves, who will start at corner alongside Doran Grant, beat out Tyvis Powell, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Cam Burrows in a competition defined as “heated.” It began at the outset of fall camp, when it became apparent Roby would face some sort of suspension for his role in an altercation at a Bloomington, Ind., bar.
Apple, Conley and Burrows are three members of the Buckeyes’ talented 2013 recruiting class, while Reeves and Powell entered Ohio State last season. All five were highly sought-after players who push themselves to reach the apex of every challenge they meet.
“We’re all competitive. We’re all trying to get on the field,” Reeves said. “Everyone at the end of the day wants to play. We have a whole bunch of freshmen coming in that were highly ranked. It’s always going to be competitive. That’s what we want. If you’re not competitive, then you aren’t getting better. This is the ideal situation for all of us to compete and get better.”
The assembly of defensive backs already spent the offseason together improving on coverage and ball skills. Putting on the pads and going full speed against Ohio State’s efficient offense is another element in the strengthening of the defensive backfield.
“Armani Reeves has had a phenomenal offseason,” Coombs said. “He’s eager and ready to go, and then those three freshmen are going to be very talented players. At Ohio State, we expect to play all of those kids before the end of the year.”
For Reeves, reaching this point has featured an odyssey lasting two years that has been winding if not treacherous. The Massachusetts native was interested in Ohio State throughout the recruiting process, but Penn State and Michigan were more likely destinations.
Then Meyer was hired.
As National Signing Day 2012 approached, Reeves made his pledge for the Buckeyes.
“Coming from Massachusetts, you’d never expect a kid from Boston to play for The Ohio State,” he said. “It’s a very different experience. I can’t wait to have my family and friends see me on the field.”
It’s not the first time they’ll see Reeves making plays in scarlet and gray. During last year’s undefeated march, he developed into an integral member of the “Piranhas” kick coverage unit. For Reeves, though, the fun ended just as the party was getting started. He suffered a season-ending knee injury six games into the season.
“It’s always going to be competitive. That’s what we want. If you’re not competitive, then you aren’t getting better.”
The devotion to special teams has paid off. A direct route to increased playing time on offense or defense is through contributions on special teams. Reeves and Rod Smith are each examples of Meyer’s philosophy.
“Coach Meyer pays a lot of attention to special teams, probably more than any coach in the country,” Reeves said. “He really prides himself on having the best special teams in the country. So when we’re out there, we want to make sure we’re doing that, having the best special teams in the country.
“We pretty much treat it like it’s the offense or the defense because it’s that important to him.”
That outlook will need to be embraced starting in Week 2 against San Diego State. Roby’s return will signal a shift to the second-team defense and special teams duties for Reeves. But he’s anything but disheartened about the inevitable demotion.
“[Roby] is obviously one of the best in the country, if not the best,” Reeves said. “When he comes back, I’ll continue working hard. If I’m on the field at corner, I’m going to go hard. If I’m in on special teams, I’m going to go hard. It really doesn’t matter where I’m at. I’m going to do my job and do it the best I can and help this team.”
It’s the same approach Roby has taken during his punishment. Practicing with the second-team defense, he’s been active in teaching the underclassmen, including Reeves, the ins and outs of the cornerback position.
“He’s been very supportive and working very hard like always,” Reeves said of Roby. “Nothing’s really changed for him. He’s breaking down film every day. His technique is always on point. I’m learning from him.”
Said Coombs: “Bradley Roby does his business like a professional. He’s incredible in our meeting room. We scrimmaged and we played a veteran and three true freshmen, and he is the leader by far. He teaches, he communicates, he puts his arm around those young guys, and he is talking them through how to play the position.”
The teaching isn’t through yet. On Saturday, Meyer made it clear the team was nowhere near ready to play a game. That message was reiterated Monday afternoon. But this time it was a player who delivered the message.
“We have to work on some things,” Reeves admitted. “But like Coach Meyer said, we have two weeks to get ready. We’ll be ready when the game comes. Right now, we’re focusing on four to six seconds as hard as we can and getting the little kinks out.”
When gameday arrives, Reeves will pull on his No. 26 jersey with a noticeable tinge of anxiety. But he’ll grow comfortable in front of the 105,000-plus delirious fans, knowing that a moment he’s lost gallons of sweat for and worked hundreds of hours toward has come to fruition.
“I’ll probably be nervous,” he said. “It’s my first start, who wouldn’t be nervous? First play, first hit, I’ll be cool. It’s a great experience, and I can’t wait for it.
“I just have to take the opportunity and go with it.”