IRONTON – Reid Carrico isn’t much of a rap fan.
Music isn’t about the beat for him. He rarely pays attention to that part of a song. It’s all about the lyrics.
He listens to a lot of rock — from the 70's all the way to now — and a bunch of old country. Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“All those guys are my people, man,” Carrico says.
So are Alice in Chains, Shinedown and Metallica, and if he had to pick his last-set song – the one he listens to when he’s putting up his final reps during a weight room workout – it would be “Mother” by Danzig.
“If you want a song to go run through that brick wall over there,” he says, pointing at the layers cloaking Ironton’s 3,400 capacity home stadium, “then there you go. It’s my song.”
That’s the kind of guy the Ohio State coaching staff is getting with one of its prized 2021 in-state recruits.
The country’s third-ranked junior inside linebacker is a teenager, but he’s an old-school country boy whose music taste mirrors his throwback on-field style.
He compares himself to John Lynch, rattles off Mike Alstott as one of his top five favorite NFL players and says his passion in the game comes not from scoring touchdowns, but from doing the dirty work on defense. He misses playing safety in eighth grade, salivating at any chance of knocking the daylights out of receivers.
“When people ran post routes or slants, man,” Carrico says, slapping his hands together, “I’d light ‘em up.”
Much of Carrico’s personality and football attitude can be attributed to growing up on a farm in the hills 25 miles east of Ironton, a 10,000-person town with a high school of less than 400 students.
The Division V high school football team’s historic Tanks Memorial Stadium rests about as far south in the state as you can go while still staying within its borders; Kentucky is a Patrick Mahomes throw to the left of the city, West Virginia is a Brooks Koepka tee box drive to the right.
Tanks Stadium is the home to the southeast region’s winningest team of the last 40 years, a legendary retired head coach (Bob Lutz) who won more games than any Ohio high school football coach in state history (381), two state championships, six runner-up finishes and 33 total playoff appearances.
“The history of Ironton football runs deep,” Carrico says as he raises his left hand and scans across the state title and runner-up banners hanging from the rafters. “This is the most traditional football program in the southern part of Ohio, probably. Definitely the southeast part of Ohio.
“We used to go all over the state and play. We used to play Moeller. We’re Division V, and Moeller’s Division I. We used to play teams like that and Pickerington, and now those schools have 1,000 kids. … We’re little ole Ironton, but we’re still a tough football team.”
Right at the forefront of that toughness is Carrico, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who talks about the sport with the same tenacity with which he plays it.
“It’s a matter of who’s gonna break first,” Carrico said. “I always like to think the other person’s gonna break before I will ... That’s just the way I am. That’s the way I approach the game. It’s worked out pretty good for me.”
He's performed well in the classroom, too.
Carrico carries a 4.5 GPA, and he’s an information sponge, asking you as many questions about yourself as you’ll ask about him.
That’s not a small character aspect to note. When it comes to football, that’s how he has to be. It comes with the territory of being the Mike linebacker and defensive signal-caller.
That’s why his intelligence, hunger to gain more knowledge and adaptability are so important. He’s going to need it the rest of this season and next as he gets more acquainted with a new position.
Go Bucks!! pic.twitter.com/vH1G9lr50V— Reid Carrico (@CarricoReid) September 10, 2019
As a little kid, Carrico says he always imagined playing in the NFL as a safety, but he was moved to linebacker when he got to high school. Since then, he’s been a Swiss Army knife, playing just about everywhere on defense throughout his career — inside 'backer, outside 'backer, safety, defensive end.
But he has never been a full-time inside linebacker until this season, and he will have to adjust to the role and gain comfortability with it. It’s the position he will be playing at Ohio State.
“There’s no doubt [that I’m adaptable],” Carrico said. “I can play any position on the field. I might not do it with the right fundamentals, but I’ll get the job done, you know what I mean?
“Personally, I like to play out in space a little bit more, but that’s just because I haven’t gained full confidence in my ability to play inside linebacker yet. When the confidence starts building from reps, then you start tackling people for five-yard losses.”
That confidence is one of the traits Buckeyes linebackers coach Al Washington noticed about Carrico. It’s part of the reason Washington spent an hour and 45 minutes on the phone talking to Carrico on the Thursday night before the Indiana game, breaking down Carrico’s film and areas of strength and weaknesses to improve.
“[Washington told me] I have a lot of handwork to work on, and my reads could be better, but it’s a thing of inexperience,” Carrico said. “I played outside linebacker last year. I just started playing inside linebacker this year. I played a little bit inside, but mostly strongside outside linebacker, so my reads have been a little bit different.
“He was just clearing the air for me, teaching me some stuff and telling me what I need to work on.”
Washington has told Carrico he sees him playing middle linebacker for the Buckeyes. They like his frame and feel he can put on weight to get into the 240- to 250-pound range.
Adding bulk won’t be unfamiliar territory for Carrico, thanks to second-year Ironton head coach Trevon Pendleton.
Pendleton was a three-year starting fullback at Michigan State, where one of his career highlights came via a touchdown catch to help the Spartans upset No. 2 Ohio State, 17-14, in 2015, snapping the Buckeyes’ 23-game win streak and leapfrogging the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff.
Pendelton brought his college pedigree to Ironton, and it instantly made an impact on Carrico, who says he realized he had a future in football beginning in eighth grade, but his work ethic didn’t truly rise until Pendleton came around.
“My freshman year in the spring is when this staff got hired, and that’s what really changed me,” says Carrico, who credits Pendleton’s weight training program with helping him tack on 40 pounds from his freshman year.
“You wanna talk about Navy SEALs football training? That’s them. We used to have to be here at 5:59 a.m., on the dot, before school. Freshman year and sophomore year. We would go over there to the track, and we would sprint 400s. We would run about 16 or 17 of them. You wanna talk about dying. I’m always in good shape, and I threw up five times.
“That was a wakeup call. That’s when I knew it was gonna be hard, but it was worth it. They changed me. They taught me that you’ve gotta have a work ethic. If you don’t have a work ethic, you’re not gonna make it.”
“I can play any position on the field. I might not do it with the right fundamentals, but I’ll get the job done, you know what I mean?”– Reid Carrico
Carrico will still have to wait a little while to bring that work ethic to Ohio Stadium, where he witnessed his first game during the Buckeyes’ 42-0 thrashing of Cincinnati on Sept. 7.
“That was my first time going to an Ohio State game live in my life and seeing the atmosphere,” Carrico said. “I’ve been to a spring game, but it’s not the same animal. That’s really when I knew. When I went up there and I seen all the daggone tents and stuff and campers and all these people with face paint, that’s when I knew. These people are diehard. I got family who’s into Ohio State and all that, and I thought, ‘This is the place for me.’
“And that’s not even a conference game.”
Carrico will enter that high-level Division I football culture in two years, with more than 100,000 screeching fans engulfing him in the Shoe.
It’s only a two-hour drive away, but the small rural-town environment of Ironton will probably seem light years away in those moments.
But that shouldn’t bother Carrico.
A country boy can survive.