Urban Meyer’s searched far and wide for his ideal hybrid, stretch-the-field offensive threat. The explorations started in Columbus with few leads. Finally, in Brooklyn, N.Y. of all places, Meyer stumbled upon an athletic wide receiver who could also play in the backfield.
The “PH” name will go unspoken.
Curtis Samuel possesses game-breaking speed, playmaking moves and all the intangibles a coach would want in a skill player. Meyer handled the recruiting process personally instead of having an assistant court the prospect before coming in to close.
When spring practice began, attention quickly turned to early enrollees Raekwon McMillan and Johnnie Dixon. Samuel’s exploits were known, but McMillian and Dixon were already household names. With spring now in the rearview mirror, Samuel may have lapped the field.
It didn’t even take 15 practices for wide receiver-turned-running back to create second glances. Meyer and the rest of the offensive coaches realized a dynamic player was on their hands before shoulder pads came on, despite a hamstring injury suffered by Samuel. His coming out party came with 2,500 classmates in attendance on Student Appreciation Day.
Those were the words Meyer uttered in the direction of Samuel when the true freshman lined up in the backfield. Samuel proved he’s a quick learner when he peeled off a 50-yard run to the end zone, right through the heart of the defense.
In one instant, Meyer, as well as onlookers, discovered what he’d been searching for. It was an a-ha moment and unearthing the fountain of youth all at once. Productive players have dotted Ohio State’s roster the past two seasons. But it was square pegs in round holes when attempting to fill certain wants and needs.
There’s a certain player mold Meyer has on file in his head. It’s of skill players similar to Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Stretching defenses and generating mismatches is the goal.
“The guy that’s in the rotation already is Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said during spring drills. “I want to say that’s shocking, especially at tailback, because I thought he’d be more of a wide receiver-slash guy. Eventually he might, but he’s legitimate running the ball.
“Unless there’s something up, he’ll play.”
Samuel’s size is noticeable in that he’s not built to take a beating in the physical Big Ten, though he did win in a collision with McMillan. That’s one reason why Samuel opted to enroll early. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, he’s hoping to add muscle before the season begins, which shouldn’t be an issue with Mickey Marotti around.
The running back depth chart was wide open when spring practice started. Ezekiel Elliott carried presumptive starter status. But everything was written in pencil. Six weeks later, the picture is starting to gain color and pen marks have been scribbled.
“The guy that really, really excites me is No. 4, Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said after the spring game. “We just have to figure out if he’s got enough size and strength to take the pounding running back’s take.
“We have some depth there, but right now 15 (Elliott) and 4 (Samuel) are the two.”
Embracing competition is ingrained in all great athletes. Samuel didn’t come into Ohio State scared of Bri’onte Dunn, Rodd Smith and Warren Ball. He stared down the challengers and used speed and elusiveness to do his talking. And he often made it look effortless with his graceful style.
Becoming a well-rounded force on offense is what Samuel aims for. He’s not interested in being a one-dimensional player who’s relied upon for a single reason. Samuel’s working on running the football, pass catching and receiving punts.
The spring was a crash course in college football for Samuel. It wasn’t entry level or 101 coursework, the coaches had him interpret 300- and 400-level work. Samuel used it as a time to let them know there’s a playmaker on the team who’s ready for liftoff this fall.
But it’s a cautionary tale for all. Five-star recruit comes in, he’s one of the fastest players on the team, hoopla surrounds him, fans are certain he can deliver as a freshman. The Buckeyes are only one year removed from Wilson’s impending success that didn’t materialize. He, like Samuel, also was getting familiar with a new position.
Even freshman superstars are still freshman. Mistakes are inevitable, as are highlight-filled moments that turn Ohio Stadium into a rock concert.
“I’m getting better,” Samuel said. “I just want to keep progressing.”