Damon Arnette nearly left Ohio State after last season to enter the 2019 NFL draft.
As Arnette scampered into the end zone at the end of his 96-yard interception return touchdown in Ohio State’s 51-10 win over Indiana on Saturday, Fox play-by-play commentator Gus Johnson reminded the TV viewers at home about the fifth-year senior cornerback’s last-minute change of heart.
“Damon Arnette stayed in school!” Johnson exclaimed in his signature call from Saturday’s game. “Cris Carter said you weren’t ready. Well, hey, Hall of Famer, I’m getting ready!”
As Arnette first told Eleven Warriors in February, he was planning to go pro at the end of last season – to the point that he had already said a final goodbye to his teammates and had made plans to move to Dallas for his pre-draft training – until a call from Carter and a meeting with new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley convinced Arnette that staying in Columbus for his final year of collegiate eligibility would be in his best interest.
Arnette made that decision with the goal of becoming an All-American this season and an early-round NFL draft pick in 2020, and with visions of making plays just like that which he made in Bloomington.
“That’s the biggest play I’ve made in my life,” Arnette said Tuesday about the pick-six.
While Arnette is confident he would be on an NFL roster right now if he had stuck with his original decision, he says he hasn’t any second thoughts about whether to stay at Ohio State instead, especially in the first three weeks since the season began.
“First game, getting ready for the FAU, I was like that’s what you came back for, to be here with all your brothers,” Arnette said. “I looked around and see just everybody I wanted to be here with. So that first game coming out of the tunnel is when I realized I made the right decision.”
Ohio State’s defense has played at a much higher level through the first three games of this season than it did for most of last season, and so has Arnette individually.
With the exception of giving up one 46-yard deep ball late in the third quarter against Cincinnati, which came after he checked back into a game he was supposed to be done playing in following an injury to Sevyn Banks, Arnette has been much more consistent in coverage and has shown his ability to make plays on the ball. He has recorded eight total tackles and had two additional pass breakups (along with another he wasn't officially credited with) against the Hoosiers.
Damon Arnette was one of the best defensive players on the field in Week 3! pic.twitter.com/eeyPU44YWq— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 16, 2019
Arnette says working with Hafley, who spent the last seven years coaching defensive backs in the NFL, has improved his understanding of the game, which has slowed the game down for him in turn.
“People might be moving fast, but I’m seeing it in slow motion,” Arnette said. “I’m just able to lock in on what I need to be doing and not worry about a lot of things around me, and that’s what I feel like everybody’s doing a better job of is just locking in on their job. And when everybody’s locking in on their job, somebody’s going to make the play.”
Keep an eye on these top defenders from this past weekend. Stock is definitely on the rise! #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE— Reese's Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) September 17, 2019
DB Damon Arnette(@OhioStateFB)
LB Cam Brown (@PennStateFball)
LB Justin Strnad (@WakeFB) pic.twitter.com/pP3EdMQYWP
Arnette has also matured off the field and taken care of business in the classroom – he graduated from Ohio State with a degree in communications after taking 18 credit hours both this spring and summer – and Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day is proud to see how far Arnette has come.
“I’m really proud of that kid,” Day said after Saturday’s game. “He’s been through a lot. He had to pass a bunch of classes academically last spring and this summer, and like you said, to press reset, he’s given himself completely to Jeff Hafley, and now he’s practiced really, really well, he’s prepared well.”
Arnette said he couldn’t give himself too much credit for the big play he made on Saturday, because his teammates – particularly the defensive line and its pass-rush – helped put him in position to make that play.
“I was really just the pawn in that whole play,” Arnette said. “The D-line was locked in on rushing the quarterback and I know he had to get it out of his hands quick, so it was really a big team play. You saw everybody running to the end zone with me.”
“I’m just able to lock in on what I need to be doing and not worry about a lot of things around me, and that’s what I feel like everybody’s doing a better job of is just locking in on their job. And when everybody’s locking in on their job, somebody’s going to make the play.”– Damon Arnette on his new level of confidence this year
Arnette was confident, though, that he would make big plays this year – and he’s confident that his strong start to the season, along with Ohio State’s strong start as a team, is just the beginning of a big year to come.
“Everything that’s happening right now, I saw happening when I decided to come back to school, so y’all just seeing it right now,” Arnette said. “Y’all eyes are going to continue to keep on getting bigger, because we got some more stuff to do, for real.
Individually, Arnette has set out to prove that he’s one of college football’s best cornerbacks and to improve his stock for next year’s NFL draft, but his primary focus right now is on what he believes the Buckeyes can accomplish together.
“I’m just excited because I think we’re going to win the natty,” Arnette said. “I’m just speaking it into existence. I’m just excited because I have great teammates. Every time we go into practice, I’m around great athletes, great people and just the whole environment of being in the Woody, it’s just great. It’s fun being out here, no matter how bad my body’s hurting or whatever, knowing I can come and just to be a part of this team, it’s like ‘Don’t be that guy’ to complain right now.”