When Urban Meyer, Mark Pantoni and the rest of the Ohio State brain trust discussed recruiting strategy for the Class of 2014, the secondary was targeted as an area of need. And when Meyer wants something, he gets it. So the Buckeyes signed four defensive backs – and one wide receiver.
Glenville’s Marshon Lattimore enters Ohio State with a multitude of skills. He can lock down opposing wide receivers when playing cornerback or give defenses fits when he lines up at receiver. Lattimore’s versatility was present Saturday in the inaugural Ohio-Michigan Border Classic.
With a small roster, he played on offense and delivered an impressive performance, finishing with eight receptions for 99 yards. While Ohio lost the game, Lattimore won over admirers, even after being ranked as one of the top recruits in the state and the entire nation. He had the unusual distinction of being rated a top-five athlete and a top-10 cornerback.
As Glenville made deep playoff runs, Lattimore became a coveted prospect. Several honors came his way after a senior season that included 911 yards receiving 16 touchdown receptions and three special teams touchdowns. Lattimore was named the Division II defensive player of the year and a U.S. Army All-American.
“[Ohio State] will probably try to put me at receiver, especially after this game,” he said, smiling. “I like defense more, but it’s an all-star game. I just tried to play wherever the team needed me.”
Lattimore was named Ohio’s offensive MVP and was clearly the most dynamic player in the game. He continually got behind the defense, doing so on obvious pass plays that were coming his direction. Team Ohio coach Mike Fell was familiar with Lattimore’s exploits prior to arriving in Findlay. But the wide-ranging difference-making ability didn’t become evident until the team held its first practice.
“Marshon’s a great athlete,” Fell said. “We tried to get him the ball. If you’re going to Ohio State, you’re the best guy. That’s the bottom line. In all-star games, you try and get the top guys the ball. What I came away with after spending three or four days with these young men was you can see why they are at the top of their game – great young men, very responsible, come to practice, work hard and represent Ohio and their towns well. That’s what these all-star games are all about.”
There were a few blemishes for Lattimore. He fumbled the ball twice, though one was in the final minutes on a hook-and-ladder, as Ohio tried to fuel a comeback in the 27-14 loss. He also was part of some chippiness, including having his helmet dislodged by a Michigan player. Lattimore chocked it up to being competitive.
It’s a trait he takes to Ohio State. When asked about goals for his true freshman season, Lattimore didn’t hesitate with a bold answer: start. Not only is that the stated objective, but he believes redshirting isn’t a possibility.
“I can always improve on my game, period,” Lattimore said. “I want to start as a freshman. I want to contribute wherever they need me – offense, defense, special teams. It doesn't matter. Redshirting is not an option. [Meyer] said it too.”
Where exactly can you find Lattimore in the fall? Definitely on defense at cornerback and one would think special teams is a desired destination for Kerry Coombs. Lattimore’s pass catching and elusiveness won’t go unused, though. He revealed that Meyer wants to him to play wide receiver on a part-time basis.
The Buckeyes enjoy depth at receiver but no standout performer. The list includes plenty of unproven talent that’s eyeing 2014 as a breakout season. Add Lattimore to the growing assortment of flair.
“I guess I’ll be like Chris Gamble,” he said.
It’s been 11 seasons since Gamble’s two-way flexibility gave Ohio State one of its most memorable players in the past half century. Gamble’s move to defense fulltime during the 2002 season coincided with the belief that the Buckeyes were a legitimate national title contender. Predictions of a similar sea change aren’t imminent for a true freshman. But Lattimore’s impact should be felt before fall camp commences.
“Marshon is a phenom. You can play him anywhere,” Glenville head coach Ted Ginn Sr. said. “[Saturday] was just an example of what he can do.”
Amid all the backslapping, Lattimore hid any sense of satisfaction. Instead, his attention was focused on the final score and the areas of his game that could have been more finely tuned.
“I could have been way better than what I played,” he said, with a sense of disappoint.
In the dead of summer, six weeks before his first college practice, Marshon Lattimore lamented his MVP performance in an all-star game. He’ll be right at home with Urban Meyer and Tom Herman.