Out of all the positions that Ohio State could have added a transfer at following the conclusion of spring practice, a kicker didn’t seem likely to be at the top of the list.
After all, the Buckeyes already have a returning Lou Groza Award finalist in Noah Ruggles, who made all but one of his 21 field goal attempts last season. They also have another scholarship kicker in redshirt sophomore Jake Seibert, already giving Ohio State more scholarship kickers than many other college football teams.
Yet the Buckeyes decided to make former USC kicker Parker Lewis their third transfer addition of the offseason when they accepted a commitment from him on Friday, adding a third scholarship kicker to their roster for the 2022 season.
Why would Ohio State feel the need to add another kicker when they already have one of the best field-goal kickers in the country? There’s a few reasons why the addition of Lewis makes sense even if it seems unconventional.
For one, the Buckeyes have been looking at passing off kickoff duties to another kicker this year even with Ruggles returning. Ruggles was unspectacular on kickoffs last season, with only 21 touchbacks on 99 kickoffs, and that nearly burned Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, when Utah’s Britain Covey had seven kickoff returns for 208 yards including a 97-yard touchdown.
At times, Ohio State has instructed its kicker not to kick the ball into the end zone in order to try to pin opponents inside the 25-yard line, but the addition of Lewis indicates the Buckeyes thought it was important to have a kicker who can boot the ball into the end zone consistently when expected to. Lewis did that for USC last season, chalking up touchbacks on 27 of his 34 kickoff attempts.
“They had some trouble on kickoff last season. I was really proficient on kickoffs ... So they obviously are interested in me doing kickoffs,” Lewis told Eleven Warriors earlier this month.
Should a kickoff returner break loose, Lewis is also unafraid to throw his body into the line of fire and make a tackle – though the Buckeyes will certainly prefer that he doesn’t pick up any more targeting penalties like he did last year against Stanford.
USC's kicker just got disqualified for targeting on the very first play of the game pic.twitter.com/VxxM1nCSbM— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 12, 2021
Lewis could also give the Buckeyes an increased ability to attempt long-range field goals this season. While Ruggles was almost perfect from the field last year, he did not attempt any field goals longer than 46 yards in 2021 and has not made a field goal longer than 49 yards in his college career, including his years at North Carolina. Lewis made a 52-yard field goal for USC last season, and the leg strength he shows on kickoffs suggests he could go even longer, though he was just 1-for-3 on attempts of over 50 yards last season.
Naturally, the addition of Lewis coupled with Ruggles’ absence from spring practice has led to questions about whether Ruggles’ return to the Buckeyes this fall is in any doubt. All indications from Ohio State have been that the Buckeyes expect Ruggles back this summer and that he simply opted to take the spring semester off – with the blessing of Ohio State’s coaching staff – as a sixth-year graduate student.
So Lewis’ arrival shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a reason for concern about Ruggles. Even though Lewis has been told he will get a chance to compete with Ruggles when he arrives at Ohio State this summer, the field-goal kicking job should be Ruggles’ to lose as long as he is in fact back as expected this fall.
Bringing in Lewis does raise questions about the future of Seibert, given that the Buckeyes have now brought in transfer kickers two years in a row – rather than giving the reins to Seibert – following the departure of Blake Haubeil after the 2020 season. Assuming Ruggles remains Ohio State’s field-goal kicker for the 2022 season, Lewis will now likely be in line to succeed Ruggles in 2023 and potentially 2024, depending on whether he chooses to use all three of his remaining years of eligibility.
In turn, signing Lewis also decreases the likelihood the Buckeyes will add a scholarship kicker from the high school ranks for the 2023 class, as they’ll likely be counting on Lewis to handle both field goal and kickoff duties next year.
One could argue that three scholarship kickers on the roster is too many, but at least one of those kickers will be gone after this season when Ruggles exhausts his eligibility. And considering that the Buckeyes were down to 84 scholarship players for the 2022 season after a rash of post-spring transfer exits, they had a spot available to fill.
The Buckeyes have not yet been linked publicly to any other players in the transfer portal since the end of spring football, so it’s possible that spot would have gone unfilled if Lewis hadn’t chosen Ohio State. There are still other positions where Ohio State could theoretically look to add another transfer if more roster spots open up – offensive line comes to mind after Ryan Day expressed concerns about the Buckeyes’ depth up front this spring – but there are no clear-cut targets for the Buckeyes in the portal right now.
While a transfer addition at any other position would likely be coming in to be a backup this season, Lewis should at least play a role this season as a kickoff specialist and will likely be the Buckeyes’ primary kicker next season. And Ohio State deemed that to be worthy of making room for him on the roster.