Jermaine Mathews will officially arrive at Ohio State to begin his career as a Buckeye on Sunday, but he already got a sneak peek at life as an Ohio State football player last week when the Buckeyes played Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
Mathews was one of three incoming freshmen, along with tight end Jelani Thurman and defensive tackle Will Smith Jr., who joined the Buckeyes in Atlanta to be with the team for their College Football Playoff semifinal. Ohio State invited its incoming midyear enrollees to go through Peach Bowl preparations with the team and watch the game from the sidelines, and while many of them were unable to attend due to participating in the All-American Bowl or Under Armour All-America Game, Mathews took advantage of the opportunity to experience the CFP with his soon-to-be teammates.
Being there as the Buckeyes played on the biggest stage – and ultimately came up just short in a 42-41 loss to the Bulldogs – made Mathews even more excited to play for the Buckeyes himself.
“That game really motivated me, I really could say,” Mathews told Eleven Warriors. “It gives you a chance just to really see it in person and just see how everything is just unfolding. Like say if I watched the game at home on the TV, it wouldn't have been the same feeling. It just made me love Ohio State football even more.”
Mathews, who spent three days in Atlanta with the Buckeyes and was able to go through pregame walkthroughs and all of the day-of-game festivities with the team, said the trip allowed him to build closer bonds with Thurman and Smith before they arrive on campus.
“I got to talk to them a lot, just pick their brains,” Mathews said. “Just really just build that relationship with my new teammates.”
The trip also allowed Mathews to become closer to Ohio State’s returning players who are about to become his teammates. And it gave Mathews a firsthand glimpse of how close the bonds within the Ohio State football program really are.
“Something that really stood out to me about being with the team is the real brotherhood that's involved with Ohio State football,” Mathews said. “A lot of people talk about it, but what the players say, it’s real. It's really a brotherhood. Even after the loss, there was a lot of brotherhood just going around. There were some hugs and just tears and everybody just sharing their love that they have for each other.
“Even before the game, all the talks I heard, all the players just giving their motivation before the game, just their wisdom; it’s a real brotherhood and I just can't wait to really be a part of this.”
Going through a full game day with the Buckeyes gave Mathews a real feel for what to expect when he goes through his first Ohio State games as a player come September.
“Just being able to be there and just see how the players are reacting to things, how they react during a game, how was things going on, just really pick up on some things,” Mathews said of how the Peach Bowl experience helped him prepare to start his career.
“If I watched the game at home on the TV, it wouldn't have been the same feeling. It just made me love Ohio State football even more.”– Jermaine Mathews on joining the Buckeyes for the Peach Bowl
While Mathews signed his National Letter of Intent with Ohio State on Dec. 21, the Peach Bowl experience made it feel fully real that Mathews is about to play for the team he’s watched throughout his childhood growing up in Cincinnati.
“It’s sunk in now that I'm really a part of the team now and just really get to make a name for myself at my dream school,” Mathews said.
Ranked as the 16th-best cornerback and 136th overall prospect in the 2023 class, Mathews will arrive at Ohio State with aspirations of competing for immediate playing time as a freshman. That’s an opportunity that could realistically be available to Mathews following the departures of two of Ohio State’s top three cornerbacks from this past season: Cameron Brown, who’s entering the 2023 NFL draft, and JK Johnson, who entered the transfer portal.
Returning cornerbacks Jordan Hancock, Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner will likely get the first crack at earning the starting job opposite Denzel Burke, but Mathews believes he is capable of making an impact quickly in Columbus.
“I’m super confident. I think like my technique and just my athletic ability, I think it ranks up there with a lot of people,” Mathews said. “So I just really want to get my body right, my mind, learn the defense, really. I think I got a really good chance of making an early impact next year.”
Mathews is arriving at Ohio State with the mindset of working to get better every day as he chases his ultimate goal of playing in the NFL, and he’s confident the Buckeyes can help him get there with its track record of developing pro cornerbacks.
“They've done it before with other corners that’s from Ohio like me and corners that probably weren’t as highly ranked like me,” Mathews said. “So I feel like they got the history of doing that, and then I really believe in Coach (Tim) Walton’s ability. And the strength staff, I can't forget about them, I really believe in them as well. So I feel like it's just a great mixture of everything and it's going to be some fun times in Columbus.”
Mathews is particularly excited about playing for Walton, saying his relationship with Ohio State’s secondary/cornerbacks coach has “gotten stronger and stronger I think every time we talk.”
“I feel like it’s a relationship that’s just gonna keep growing but a relationship that I really enjoy, and I just can't wait to really get started,” Mathews said.
A late riser in the recruiting process, Mathews was only a three-star prospect when he earned his offer from Ohio State on the first day of recruiting camps in June. Over the next six months, Mathews received offers from a bevy of college football’s top programs including Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Miami. Even though Mathews committed to Ohio State in July, other schools continued to recruit him, and Miami nearly convinced Mathews to take an official visit in December.
In the end, however, Mathews decided Ohio State was where he wanted to play and the school he thought would develop him best. And he said NIL wasn’t a big factor in his recruitment.
“I want to be developed, I want to really make it to the NFL, that's my end goal,” Mathews said. “I'm not really worried about NIL right now. I feel like if I get on the field at Ohio State, all the NIL stuff is gonna come. So I just really want to be developed the best I can. So that's really why I chose Ohio State.”
Ryan Day believes Mathews has a bright future with the Buckeyes because of what he’s seen from Mathews both during his standout camp performance at Ohio State last summer and during his senior season at Winton Woods High School, where he earned state defensive player of the year honors while leading Winton Woods to 12 straight wins before a loss in the regional semifinals of the playoffs.
“He had a great year this year, just playing really, really hard for Winton Woods and Coach (Chad Murphy), and I just was really impressed with his ability to go compete every single day,” Day said on signing day. “This is another guy who went through a lot during the recruiting process and fielded a lot of calls and a lot of people were blowing up that phone, and he was loyal to the Buckeyes. And I think he's going to have a great career here.”
Being on the sidelines as Ohio State lost its second straight game only further stoked Mathews’ competitive fire. As he joins a team that’s gone 11-2 in two consecutive seasons with back-to-back losses to Michigan, Mathews welcomes the pressure that comes with trying to turn things around in the rivalry game and compete for a national championship.
“It’s probably no better way to really come in,” Mathews said. “We’re down and we've lost to them back-to-back years, so I feel like it’s time to really change. So it's probably no better way to come in, we got the chip on our shoulders and it’s time to really lock in.”
Mathews believes his desire to win will be the first thing that stands out to Ohio State fans when they watch him play in scarlet and gray.
“I’m very competitive and I don’t really like to lose at all. So I feel like just how competitive I am and how much of a hard worker I am,” Mathews said. “I make a lot of plays, so I'll just get to showcase that in front of thousands or millions of people. They’re gonna love it.”