It’s not that Josh Proctor ignored the advice given to him by Jordan Fuller in his first two collegiate seasons. In fact, he remembers it all, from wide-scope perspective to detailed minutiae.
But the lessons passed down by the two-time Ohio State captain didn’t fully connect with Proctor until after Fuller departed from the program, when the Oklahoma native transitioned from young understudy to relied-upon veteran.
Now entering his senior season starting at the free safety position Fuller held down for three years in scarlet and gray, Proctor doesn’t have to search far for an NFL standout to pattern his game and work ethic after.
“I’m gonna go with J-Full,” Proctor said Monday after preseason practice. “He left last year. I think as he began his time in the league, I feel like a lot of the stuff he used to tell me started to make sense, started to come to me more. Now I’m starting to realize a lot of little stuff he used to tell me, a lot of little stuff I need to focus on in order to become the player I do want to be. Not rely on athletic ability.”
Proctor earned the starting job at the Buckeyes’ single-high safety spot by the end of the 2020 season, a position many expected him to begin the year at in Fuller’s absence, but Ohio State coaches have noticed a shift in Proctor’s demeanor ahead of the new slate.
Undoubtedly the most important season of his career to date, Proctor will almost certainly begin it as a starter, and even if he didn’t earn the status of team captain a la Fuller, his development has been clear to members of the team in more ways than one.
“Has he been a leader? He’s definitely matured a great deal since the first day I met Josh, and we’re very proud of him for that,” secondary coach Matt Barnes said.
Given his senior status and the influx of young talent into the Buckeye secondary in the past two offseasons, Proctor even compared his leadership responsibilities to those of Fuller just a couple years ago.
“I feel like I’m in the role that J-Full was in when I got here,” Proctor said. “A lot of young guys, just bringing them along and making sure they know the ropes and how to go about their business once they get here. So I feel like I’m in that position now, and it’s my time to step up.”
Proctor said he only talks to Fuller “every now and then,” as the former Buckeye’s schedule is full with NFL preparations ahead of his second season with the Los Angeles Rams. However, the tips he gave Proctor still resonate to this day, and the fourth-year Buckeye said he has focused on incorporating them into his daily routine as it pertains to the gridiron.
“Just spending time with the coaches in the film room, maybe the way I write down notes or really just little details like that that’ll help me focus on the field and be able to just play instead of thinking all the time,” Proctor said.
The mental adjustments have helped allow Proctor to make physical changes as well.
Proctor said one critique he had of his own game after last season was that he could’ve been considerably stronger and more physical. He said his “whole goal” this offseason was to increase strength and put on size, even though the process proved difficult at times due to the 6-foot-2 safety’s wiry frame.
The changes Proctor has made this offseason have not gone unnoticed by Ohio State head coach Ryan Day.
“I think his approach has been excellent because first off he’s changed his body,” Day said. “He’s almost 200 pounds now, and he wasn’t that way last year, I think he was around 185. He’s a different player with 15 extra pounds. So that was the first sign that he was maturing and taking it very seriously. But the second thing is his consistency and his playmaking ability. That position is very important. You have to get guys on the ground when it squirts out, you have to make plays in the post, and he’s shown he can do that consistently.”
After beginning last season at cover safety, where Proctor was apt to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage, the former top-100 overall high school recruit said he feels like the free safety spot is the one he came to Ohio State to play.
“I think this is the right spot,” Proctor said. “I just feel like I’m used to kind of being like the quarterback back there. Just seeing everything, basically like the leader on the defense really.”
Besides just putting on weight, Proctor said improving his patience has been an emphasis of his offseason training. So too has been his work on the jugs machine, where Proctor said he has spent time on every day since fall camp started.
Proctor has recorded an interception in each of the past two seasons, but said he has let a couple slip away as well.
“That’s one thing I actually focused on this year too, is catching the ball,” Proctor said. “I really get excited in games, my eyes get big once I see the ball, I’m looking other places. I’ll be OK this year.”
Fuller tallied two picks in his final season with the Buckeyes, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors to help buoy him into the NFL. Since then, all he’s done is defy expectations with a stellar rookie campaign.
It’s an enviable path for Proctor, who seems nothing short of hungry to continue following in the footsteps of his former mentor in 2021 and beyond.