Trey Sermon’s decision to become a Buckeye can be traced back to when he was initially being recruited out of high school.
A four-star prospect out of Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, Sermon was one of several running backs that Tony Alford and Ohio State pursued in the class of 2017. Ohio State ended up signing J.K. Dobbins, and Sermon ended up signing with Oklahoma. But Sermon and Alford built a relationship during his recruitment that remained positive after both he and the Buckeyes chose to go in different directions.
So when Sermon decided to leave Oklahoma after three years as a Sooner, and Ohio State suddenly needed a graduate transfer running back after J.K. Dobbins went to the NFL and Master Teague hurt his Achilles in spring practice, it didn’t take long for the Buckeyes to emerge as Sermon’s transfer destination of choice.
“Although I went to Oklahoma and I had my years there, I remember after we played (at Ohio State in 2017), we talked a little bit after the game and he was just checking in with me, how I was doing,” Sermon said. “So now, once we got to this point, it’s kind of just we picked up where we left off.”
Once Sermon entered the transfer portal in March, Alford and Ohio State’s coaching staff studied his film from Oklahoma – from his freshman year to his last year there – and reached out to coaches on Oklahoma’s staff, and they liked what they saw and heard. And once the Buckeyes started recruiting him again, he liked what he saw and heard from Columbus, too.
“I just fell in love with the culture here. It’s a great coaching staff, and just great players here that I’ve known throughout the recruiting world,” Sermon said Tuesday during his first interview session since he became a Buckeye. “And I just felt like it would be the best opportunity for me.”
Sermon came to Ohio State for the chance to play a starring role in the Buckeyes’ backfield after he saw just 54 carries for Oklahoma in 2019 before his season was cut short by a knee injury. After he arrived on campus this summer, though, that chance almost got taken away from him when the Big Ten initially made the decision to postpone its fall season.
Sermon said Tuesday that “it was really tough” to have to deal with that uncertainty and not know whether he would end up getting to play for the Buckeyes in 2020. But even though he briefly faced the possibility of not getting to play this fall while his former Oklahoma teammates did, he tried to keep a positive mindset throughout with the belief that his chance to play this year would eventually come.
“My mindset at the time was, I just have to focus on just getting better,” Sermon said. “I have to stay ready because once the opportunity does come and they say we get to play, I don’t want to be behind. So I mean, it was pretty tough just to continue with that mindset, but I managed to do good.”
Alford, who described Sermon as “extremely positive in nature,” said Sermon was great throughout the process as he tried to reassure Sermon and his family that Ohio State would work toward his best interest no matter what happened.
“Those are some long conversations that I had with he and his mother, and they were numerous,” Alford said Tuesday. “Because he was frustrated. The kid just wanted to play. Much like our other guys. But he stayed the course, and he didn’t waver. He just said, ‘Hey, I can only do what I can do,’ and handle the things that were right there in front of him on his plate, and so, as we told him, just keep having faith and this thing’s gonna work out. As we kept telling all of our players.”
“My mindset at the time was, I just have to focus on just getting better. I have to stay ready because once the opportunity does come and they say we get to play, I don’t want to be behind.”– Trey Sermon on dealing with the uncertainty of whether Ohio State would play this fall
Now that the season is on track to start later this month, Alford is working with Sermon on getting him ready to play in the Buckeyes’ offense for the first time. One big point of emphasis for Sermon, Alford said, has been to get his pad level down when he runs.
“He is a little upright, at times,” Alford said. “But he presents a lot of issues. Trey does a great job. He’s really good coming out of the backfield, catching the ball and running routes, and he’s a very capable and able and willing blocker from the film that we watched, him coming in here. I think he’s a tough guy.”
While that’s something they’re still working on because the Buckeyes were just able to start practicing in pads again last week, the process of learning Ohio State’s offensive playbook has already been ongoing for months. Even when players and coaches were away from campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alford said Sermon would come to his house – “of course, social distanced” – to work on learning the offense, and the new Buckeye running back has impressed Ohio State’s running backs coach with his approach to mastering his craft.
“The way he attacked the playbook was impressive. And his ability to retain information very, very quickly, and then to transfer the information onto the field from the meeting room,” Alford said. “And he’s always on a quest for knowledge. ‘Coach, what about this? Coach, what about this?’”
Sermon said it hasn’t been too difficult for him to pick up Ohio State’s offensive scheme because it’s similar to the one he was in at Oklahoma. And he’s seen many other similarities between the two programs, too.
“They’re both great programs,” Sermon said. “There’s not really many differences. The coaching staff is great. Both teams play at a high level. They’re both top-tier programs.”
Sermon isn’t guaranteed to be Ohio State’s starting running back this season, as Teague has now recovered from his Achilles injury and is expected to be full-go for the season opener on Oct. 24. But Sermon feels fortunate just to get the opportunity to be a Buckeye and to get to play this fall, and he’s enjoying competing with Teague and the rest of the team’s running backs.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt in my entire career, and just to be in the room with guys like Master, Steele (Chambers), Xavier (Johnson), just all great guys,” Sermon said. “And we come in and we compete every day.”
Teague is enjoying competing with Sermon, too, and looking forward to seeing what they can do together as a running back tandem this year.
“I think he’s a great addition to the team,” Teague said. “High-character guy. Very disciplined. And he learned very quickly our offense and everything. And he’s looking good. So we’re excited to have him. And also just another chance to compete, another chance to make each other better, make everybody better in the room. So I think he’s going to be a great complement to the room.”