The answer to the less-interesting question is yes. Let’s get that out of the way off the top.
Yes, Demario McCall – who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this offseason – believes he’s going to play on the Ohio State defense.
“I think I can have a big role this year,” he said. “As long as I keep doing what I'm doing out on the field, I think I can have a big one.”
So, too, does Kerry Coombs.
“We have a month,” he said, emphasizing how much time they have to figure things out. But he made it clear that McCall “is going to play.”
Will that actually come to fruition? Will Coombs actually put McCall in his rotation at cornerback? Those aren’t questions that can get answered right now, and there might not be any way to know for sure until the season kicks off in four weeks.
McCall exudes optimism in the position change. He, after all, is the one who suggested it because he wanted to “try something different and go for it and give it my all” in his “last go-around.”
“It's more so just remembering but learning the technique again,” McCall said. “It wasn't a hard transition for me. I'm an athlete. I'm a football player. I've played football my whole life, so it was nothing new to me. It's probably new to Buckeye Nation and some of the guys who can't see me on defense or who didn't watch my high school or before that. I've played defense my whole life until I got here. It was just remembering.”
Now, let’s get to the more interesting part of this: Why is McCall here right now? Why is he on the Buckeyes’ roster?
It’s something many have wondered, given that this is his sixth year at Ohio State and – as is the case with all of the prior five seasons – there’s not a clear path for him to get onto the field. He’s undeniably a dynamic ballcarrier and impressive athlete, which is why many have wondered if he could find more offensive opportunities elsewhere. Yet rather than trying college football somewhere else where opportunities would’ve been more plentiful or giving up the game entirely, he chose to take advantage of the NCAA offering a blanket eligibility waiver and stay at Ohio State for another season. And instead of playing offense, he’s moving to defense after a half-decade on the other side of the ball.
He fully knows that even just staying on the team for this long, even without accounting for the position switch, isn’t normal. And it’s not what anybody with NFL dreams arrives in Columbus hoping to do.
“To be honest, nobody wants to be here for six years,” McCall said. “But we all got different routes, and God's got a plan for all of us. So this is his plan. He's driving and I'm with it.”
Of course, McCall says, he at least thought about the possibility of going elsewhere to become a featured part of an offense. Those ideas percolated after last season, which he admitted was “very frustrating” because of his minor role. He said his parents and teammates “helped me get through it.”
Yet McCall says he never arrived at a point where he seriously considered doing something other than playing for Ohio State in 2021.
“I've known I wanted to stick around,” McCall said. “It was more so, how would I handle my situation?”
By that, he was referring to his position and how he might see the field more often.
“The thing that made me stay is the brotherhood that's here,” McCall said. “It's hard to leave. It's hard to leave the love and the brotherhood and the guys in the locker room. That was my biggest thing, to be honest.”
And he knows he's unique in that he made the decision to stick around.
“I feel like a lot of people who would have been in my shoes right now would have transferred or left,” McCall said. “That's the easy way. And I just feel like me being me and just coming from where I come from, the transition from receiver to corner is almost the easy part for me. So it wasn't a hard choice for me to make at all. It wasn't at all.”
He added: “Coming from where I'm coming from, we can't give up that easily.”
Demario McCall: "One thing I will never let you do is see me down." pic.twitter.com/ICN6IFc4VW— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) August 6, 2021
So, that’s why he’s still here.
Because he loves the people he can be around, because of his background and because he thinks he can make an impact on this Ohio State team.
So far, so good for McCall. He’s happy with his progress, and so are the coaches. Recently, Matt Barnes told the defensive backs that McCall is like a “piece of clay” given how much he listens and does exactly what’s asked. Coombs said that more than once they’ve highlighted McCall on film as somebody who’s doing a certain technique better than anybody else. McCall, who Coombs called a “rep-eater,” is taking legitimate snaps in practice.
Regardless of what his performance looks like as a sixth-year senior, don’t expect his demeanor – the demeanor that made him a cult hero to a subset of Ohio State fans – to change.
“One thing about me, I'm going to stay positive,” McCall said. “I see all the comments. I see it all. I hear it all. One thing I will never let you do is see me down. I will not let you see me down. Every time you see me, I'm going to be smiling, positive, chest up, head high.
“Just how I was brought up.”