Ohio State brought Lathan Ransom in with a singular vision in mind.
The four-star recruit and Arizona native had a penchant for making plays all over the field for the Salpointe Catholic High School defense, but former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley saw Ransom as a free safety at the back end of the Buckeyes’ defense.
When Ransom emerged as the lone freshman defensive back Kerry Coombs and company felt comfortable playing in key moments during the Buckeyes’ 2020 postseason run, though, it was at a different position entirely.
“If you watched Lathan’s high school film, he was a more deep-field oriented, middle-field safety. He ended up being a much better cover player than we anticipated,” Matt Barnes, who is in his first year as Ohio State secondary coach, said this week. “Now I would expect to see Lathan all over the field this year. But if you go back to the Clemson game, you saw him mostly covering in the slot, and that was something that we were not necessarily anticipating him doing at such a high level. That’s one thing that we didn’t anticipate him doing that well that he does very well. But I would expect to see him all over the field.”
At the cover safety position, Ransom played nearly half of the Buckeyes’ defensive snaps in their Sugar Bowl triumph against Clemson, and now appears poised to play plenty more snaps as a sophomore in 2021. While he played only at cover safety as a freshmen, Ransom says he's comfortable lining up at bullet or free safety if needed, too.
"I feel comfortable playing Any safety position we have."– Sophomore safety Lathan Ransom
“They are all different, but the coaches prepared me, and I think prepared all the safeties to be able to play every position on the field,” Ransom said. “So I feel comfortable playing any safety position we have.”
Even though Ryan Day said Monday that the Buckeyes aren’t changing their philosophy when it comes to the safety position this season, it seems like Barnes has made a couple tweaks.
Ransom said Barnes has done a “great job” of teaching concepts to all the Buckeye defensive backs instead of just focusing on each player learning one designated position, which also seems to be the same strategy linebackers coach Al Washington has employed with his unit this offseason.
“You never know, so I try to tell the young guys, ‘Just try to know every position,’ because you never know when your number is gonna get called,” Ransom said. “That’s really what all our coaches preach here is just competitive excellence. When your number is called, you just go in there, it doesn’t change from the starters to the next guy up.”
Ransom saw most of his snaps alongside starting slot cornerback Marcus Williamson in the Sugar Bowl last season, but the cover safety isn't necessarily different than the role Williamson and previously Shaun Wade held down over the past two seasons. Ransom has worked closely with both the aforementioned Buckeyes and studied their tape.
“Shaun Wade was a great mentor to me last year,” Ransom said. “He definitely helped me out a lot. There was a couple days where we’d come back just me and him, and he’d teach me some things and just give me some advice and watch film. So I definitely go back and watch what Shaun Wade used to do.”
Even with Wade gone this year, Day, Coombs and Barnes have all expressed confidence that the depth of the Buckeye secondary this preseason – a unit that ranked among the nation’s worst pass defenses in 2020 – is better than it has been in years.
Ransom is a key reason why, and his name has frequently been at the tip of Day’s tongue when discussing the promising talent on the back end this offseason. Ransom said he thinks what has garnered Day’s attention most of all is the consistent effort he puts in day in and day out.
“I’m just a hard worker. That’s really something I pride myself on, just a guy that’s gonna go in and just grind every day,” Ransom said. “My teammates have really helped me just to push me every day, just going against receivers, the other DBs in the room have just pushed me to be the best player I can be.”
But Ransom said that level of effort is demanded of him because at Ohio State, “you can’t have an off day.”
“There are no days where you can really take a play off or not come here with your A-game on because we have the best receivers, the best quarterbacks, the best O-line, D-line, linebackers,” Ransom said. “Every position on the field is the best in the country, so if you don’t come here with your A-game, then you’re gonna get exposed.”
The level of competition on the practice field is one thing Ransom credited for his quick acclimation from high school to major college football, even though he wasn’t an early enrollee and didn’t have a normal preseason camp last year due to COVID-19.
With several more games on the schedule and a year of experience under his belt, Ransom said he’s ready to play “wherever we need help at” in 2021. Expected to be an integral member of the Ohio State secondary this season, Ransom could also play a key role in a major turnaround for the unit as well, following a disappointing 2020.
“I think we do definitely have a chip on our shoulder, and I think this year is gonna be a great year for all of our DBs, and I think it’s gonna be really exciting to (see) what we do,” Ransom said.