Ohio State coach Urban Meyer feels good about his decision to give Elijaah Goins a scholarship this summer.
The former walk-on proved he deserved a scholarship on Saturday against UNLV, when he recorded three tackles in kickoff coverage – all inside the 17-yard line – and was named as Ohio State’s special teams player of the game.
"Universities often invest in things," Meyer said Wednesday. "When we offered him a scholarship, and he took it, that was a great investment for us."
The senior from Cox Mill, N.C. is listed on Ohio State’s roster as a wide receiver and participates in meetings with the wide receivers, but he hasn’t played a single snap at that position this year. His true position – the position that earned him one of the team’s 85 scholarships for this season – is on special teams, where he is a regular participant on Ohio State’s kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units.
What makes Goins such a good special teams player? The biggest reason, particularly on kickoff and punt coverage, might be his speed.
Fellow wide receivers K.J. Hill and Johnnie Dixon said Wednesday that Goins might be the fastest wide receiver on the team (much to the chagrin of Parris Campbell, who is also considered to be one of the team’s four fastest players along with cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kendall Sheffield). Meyer says Goins has been timed running as fast as 23 miles per hour.
"You got to be fast as you know what to get down the field and do what he does," Meyer said. "He’s extremely gifted as far as speed."
“When we offered him a scholarship, and he took it, that was a great investment for us.”– Urban Meyer on Elijaah Goins
Goins’ position on Ohio State’s kickoff coverage unit is known simply as the "5," a position that has been played in previous years by Ward, Gareon Conley and Tyvis Powell. On a typical kickoff, Goins lines up on the outside of the formation as the furthest player away from the kicker’s near sideline. Goins’ main responsibility, he says, is to compress and contain the ball.
"So our kickoff scheme is we kick the ball to the boundary, basically, and I’m compressing and taking all the air out of it and trying to get to the man as fast as possible," Goins said.
Goins credits fellow wide receiver Austin Mack, who plays directly inside of Goins on the kickoff coverage team as the "6," with freeing Goins up to get to the ball and make tackles.
"I basically can do what I want," Goins said. "So I can fit into the hole, like go as fast as possible and make tackles, or I can kind of contain it and be outside of everybody. But Austin makes me whole. So if I go outside, he comes in."
Goins plays a similar role on punt coverage as a gunner. He says his speed is also important on the punt block unit, because the coaches "want fast guys who can block the punt." But he also has a role on that unit, as well as his role as the left tackle on the kickoff return unit, because of his ability to block in the return game.
While Ward, Conley and Powell parlayed their roles on special teams in starting roles in the secondary, Goins is unlikely to ever see regular playing time on offense or defense – he hasn’t yet, and as a senior, he’s running out of time. As a result, it’s also less likely that Goins will follow in their footsteps and play in the NFL; Goins, who still works two days a week at CVS, hopes to continue his education at Ohio State’s College of Pharmacy after he earns his undergraduate degree in December.
Even so, Goins doesn’t feel like he is any less important to the program that those guys are or were, especially after hearing Meyer praise his value to the team.
"I play a critical role in this program, and I take that with pride, and I’m going to stride with it," Goins said. "Doing everything I can and what I can for this team."
Meyer has no doubt that Goins will continue playing a critical role for this year’s Buckeyes.
"What he’s done, he’s going to continue to do too," Meyer said.