Glory Years: Ranking the 10 Greatest Seasons by a Safety in Ohio State History

By Jake Anderson on April 26, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Glory Years: Malik Hooker

Welcome to Glory Years, where we rank the top individual seasons in Ohio State football history.

The safety position has always been one of the most reliable slots in football. While safeties still possess the main philosophy of "don't let anyone behind you," the position is changing. The distinction between linebacker/safety/slot corner is murkier than ever before, making our job of ranking them much more difficult. 

While it typically applies more to cornerbacks, the best coverage safeties rarely get targeted, resulting in lower statistics despite their higher performance. Despite the limitations, some things in football never change: defensive backs should be reliable tacklers that can outperform the receiver across from them. Considering the limited statistics of Ohio State's past and the ever-changing nature of football, we'll rank the top ten seasons by Buckeye safeties using a number of metrics that have been tracked for decades. 



Ranking the best individual seasons in Ohio State football history.

As we did last week, we'll be using a points system to evaluate the greatest safety seasons in program history. Using the season statistics dating back to 1972, we gave points for each safeties' statistics, weighted based on the rarity and relevance of the event.

  • Tackles per Game
  • Tackles for Loss per Game
  • Pass Break-Ups per Game
  • Chaos Factor (Interceptions + Forced Fumbles per Game)

Some data, such as interceptions, was not consistently tracked throughout Ohio State's history. For the missing data, the mean for all safeties was used. 

10. Gary Berry, 1997

A Worthington native, Gary Berry's sophomore season is often overlooked. With Antoine Winfield at the corner position, Berry roamed the middle of the field, snagging five interceptions. His 166 interception yards led the Big Ten in 1997 and is still a school record. 

Berry was a three-year starter at Ohio State, ending his career with seven interceptions and over 200 tackles. 

9. Kurt Coleman, 2009

Coming off of a productive junior year, Kurt Coleman entered his final season at Ohio State as the veteran in the defensive backfield. The Clayton native averaged 0.23 forced fumbles per contest, good for the sixth-best average among safeties in program history. 

Coleman earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors following his senior season and was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News. 

8. Mike Doss, 2000

One of the most beloved Buckeyes in program history, Mike Doss controlled the back end of the defense. The hard-hitting safety averaged 1.08 tackles for loss and 7.83 tackles per game, the best and second-best marks among safeties in program history. 

Doss was a unanimous All-American in 2002 and co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten and ended his career as Ohio State's all-time leading tackler at the safety position. He was named the MVP of the 2002 Fiesta Bowl after winning the National Championship. Doss was inducted into the Ohio State Hall of Fame in 2011. 

7. Kelvin Bell, 1983

Hailing from Virginia, Kelvin Bell made an immediate impact for the Buckeyes. Playing in all 24 games as a freshman and sophomore, he was the most experienced member of the 1983 Ohio State secondary, picking off five passes and forcing 0.583 fumbles per game, the 11th best mark in program history among safeties. 

Bell played in all 36 games of his collegiate career until his senior year in 1984 when he played just seven minutes all season. 

6. Garcia Lane, 1981

As a sophomore, Garcia Lane made an immediate impact for Earle Bruce. The Youngstown native recorded 13 pass break-ups in 12 games, the best per-game mark in program history for an Ohio State safety. 

Lane ended the year as the conference's top punt returner. He held that title for the next two years of his career, leading the Big Ten in punt returns his junior and senior year while finishing his career with six interceptions. 

5. Walter Taylor, 1993

After making the move to safety in the offseason, Walter Taylor proved that his coaches made the right decision. The Dallas native averaged 0.41 interceptions per game at free safety, good for the sixth-best per-game mark in program history. 

Taylor ended his career as a three-time letter awardee and finished third on the team in tackles. 

4. Malik Hooker, 2016

After redshirting his freshman year and playing sparingly in 2015, Malik Hooker had one of the greatest breakout seasons in program history. Hooker's redshirt sophomore season saw him intercept seven passes (tied for best mark amongst safeties) for three touchdowns while recording 74 tackles. 

Hooker ended his season as a consensus First Team All-American and forgoed his final two years of eligibility for the NFL Draft. 

3. Sonny Gordon, 1986

As a rover in Earle Bruce's defense, Sonny Gordon was a menace all over the gridiron. The senior back broke the school record for interceptions for a safety and averaged over seven tackles per game, the seventh-best mark in Buckeye history amongst those in the position group. Gordon has the highest chaos factor of any Ohio State safety ever. 

Gordon ended his career with 226 tackles, the fourth most by a safety in program history. 

2. Terry White, 1985

As a junior and three-year starter, Terry White joined Sonny Gordon as one of the most fearsome safety duos in the nation. He averaged 0.75 pass break-ups per game (No. 2) and 0.25 forced fumbles per game (No. 3). White was fourth on the team in tackles his junior season. 

He was dismissed from the team in 1986 following the best year of his career. 

1. Damon Moore, 1996

In one of the quietest seasons in recent memory, Damon Moore's redshirt sophomore year has stood the test of time. Despite his limited experience, Moore became the first non-linebacker to lead the Buckeyes in tackles in nearly 30 years, averaging 7.42 tackles per game in 1996 (No. 4 amongst safeties). He also recorded five interceptions and broke up six passes.

Moore ended his career with 267 tackles, the second-most among safeties in program history. He was a First Team All-Big Ten selection in 1997 and an All-American in 1998. 

  Player Season Tackles/G TFL/G PBU/G Chaos Score
1 Damon Moore 1996 7.417 0.417 0.500 0.917 2.263
2 Terry White 1985 5.917 0.000 0.750 0.750 2.092
3 Sonny Gordon 1986 7.231 0.538 0.000 1.231 2.088
4 Malik Hooker 2016 5.692 0.423 0.308 1.077 2.060
5 Walter Taylor 1993 5.583 0.000 0.500 0.917 1.975
6 Garcia Lane 1981 5.000 0.000 1.083 0.333 1.917
7 Kelvin Bell 1983 3.083 0.000 0.583 1.000 1.892
8 Mike Doss 2000 7.833 1.083 0.250 0.583 1.888
9 Kurt Coleman 2009 5.231 0.192 0.308 1.000 1.879
10 Gary Berry 1997 3.692 0.154 0.538 0.923 1.869
11 Roger Harper 1991 5.417 0.583 0.333 0.833 1.854
12 Vonn Bell 2014 6.133 0.133 0.400 0.800 1.847
13 Chico Nelson 1992 5.667 0.083 0.167 1.083 1.838
14 Mike Doss 2001 7.250 0.833 0.333 0.500 1.767
15 Roger Harper 1992 5.500 0.167 0.500 0.667 1.758
16 Kurt Coleman 2008 6.000 0.308 0.385 0.692 1.754
17 Terry White 1984 5.917 0.250 0.417 0.667 1.738
18 Rob Kelly 1996 5.500 0.333 0.417 0.667 1.717
19 Donte Whitner 2005 6.083 0.750 0.500 0.417 1.713
20 Mike Doss 2002 7.643 0.357 0.571 0.286 1.710

LEGEND: TFL/G Tackles for Loss per Game CHAOS Forced Fumbles + Interceptions per Game

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