Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.
Jermaine Mathews has been an Ohio State fan ever since he can remember. The cornerback always dreamed of being a Buckeye. Now, that dream has become a reality.
- Size: 6-0/175
- Position: CB
- School: Winton Woods (Cincinnati, Ohio)
- 247 Composite: ★★★★
- Composite Rank: #6 CB
- Overall Rank: #51
Ranked as the No. 6 cornerback (No. 51 overall) in the 2023 class, Mathews is the highest-ranked in-state cornerback to commit to Ohio State since Ted Ginn Jr. in 2024. But while Ginn ended up moving to wide receiver soon after he became a Buckeye, Mathews is expected to make his home in Ohio State’s secondary, where he could be exactly the kind of player Ohio State needs to get back to its BIA standard.
How He Became A Buckeye
Mathews was a late riser in the recruiting process, as his first season as a starter came as a junior at Winton Woods High School. When he received his offer from Ohio State on June 1, 2022, he was a three-star prospect and ranked No. 517 overall. On that day, he worked out at Ohio State, a camp that inevitably changed his life as he dominated in one-on-one drills and had one of the most impressive performances throughout the month of camps in Columbus.
“I think the decision to just come to camp worked out so good,” Mathews said that day. “I’m just happy I made that decision because otherwise, it could have been a what-if. It felt really good to get the offer. It’s really hard to explain because it’s something you’ve been waiting on for so long. And then when it happened, it’s just like, wow. (Ryan Day) said I earned it.”
Mathews was so impressive that he quickly got a cheering section full of plenty of current Buckeyes, one of which made it clear that he wanted Ohio State to offer Mathews.
“It was definitely a show to watch,” Miyan Williams, who also attended Winton Woods, said while attending Mathews’ commitment ceremony in July. “If you weren’t there, you missed out. I (told OSU coaches), ‘Ya’ll seen enough?’”
Garnering 45 offers, Mathews is now a four-star prospect and ranked as one of the best cornerbacks in the 2023 cycle. Even after becoming one of the best cornerback prospects in his class, the highly-touted cornerback still has plenty of motivation he can lean on to continue to improve.
“It’s cool, but I still try to keep the underrated and underdog chip on my shoulder,” Mathews told Eleven Warriors of his rise up the rankings. “Because that’s who I am. I’m just a kid from Cincinnati. That’s cool and all, but I’m just working on my craft and making sure I’m the best that I can be for real.”
Miami and its NIL collective were rumored to prepare a lucrative package for Mathews to flip to the Hurricanes, but the cornerback never wavered his commitment to his in-state dream school after he gave his pledge to the Buckeyes on July 1.
“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.”
Being in Atlanta for three days to experience Ohio State's Peach Bowl preparations in person and then being able to watch the game from the OSU sideline a week before he was set to start classes in Columbus made Mathews even more excited to be a Buckeye. Experiencing that made it truly sink in that he was going to play for his favorite team that he has rooted for while growing up in Cincinnati.
“That game really motivated me, I really could say,” Mathews said. “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.
“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.
High School Years
Mathews took home many honors as a senior at Winton Woods, as he was named the 2022 Division II Defensive Player of the Year by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association. The cornerback had 51 tackles (five for loss), four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 20 pass deflections and six interceptions (three pick-sixes) during his senior season. Mathews had 10 combined interceptions during his final two seasons at Winton Woods and also forced seven fumbles, proving his ballhawking ability.
2 Ints 2 TD +big dub https://t.co/X0U8vg18jm— Jermaine Mathews Jr (@Jr2Maine) October 1, 2022
Not only was he a shutdown cornerback, but Mathews showed he could be a playmaker with the ball in his hands, too. He returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass to score six total touchdowns in his senior season.
Punt Return of the year ! pic.twitter.com/js5adBbRkF— Jermaine Mathews Jr (@Jr2Maine) September 10, 2022
A handful of true freshmen have started at cornerback for the Buckeyes over the last handful of years and Mathews has aspirations of doing the same. With two of Ohio State’s top three cornerbacks from this past season no longer in Columbus – Cameron Brown entered the 2023 NFL Draft and JK Johnson transferred to LSU – there is certainly opportunity to be had.
Mathews' ball skills and cover ability at cornerback – both in man and zone – are what he's best at already, giving him an opportunity to make a name for himself in Tim Walton’s secondary. With a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, he has speed that pairs well with his skill set to make an immediate impact.
“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.”
Given his excellence as a returner for Winton Woods, Mathews could also be an option to return punts or kicks for the Buckeyes. Even if he doesn’t, Mathews is likely to make an early impact on special teams while he works his way up the depth chart at cornerback.
A physical cornerback, Mathews is already adept in press coverage but will need to continue to build his body and gain muscle in order to compete with the best wide receivers in college football every single play.
Otherwise, Mathews already has the tools to be elite. And he believes learning from Ohio State's coaching staff will only accelerate his development.
Better Know A Buckeye
“They've done it before with other corners that are 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.”
As a Buckeye, Mathews has two things on his mind: Beat Michigan and, to put it simply, just win games for Buckeye Nation.
“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.
“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.”
With Denzel Burke entering what could be his final season at Ohio State, there should be opportunities for Mathews to compete for a starting cornerback job early in his Ohio State career even if he doesn’t earn one immediately this season.
Player Comparison: Marshon Lattimore
Mathews arrives at Ohio State with a similar recruiting profile to Lattimore, who was the sixth-ranked cornerback (No. 55 overall) in the 2014 class. Now one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Lattimore used his physicality and 4.35 40 speed to dominate at the college level and checked in at 6-foot, 193 pounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
Once Mathews adds more muscle while continuing to develop at Ohio State, he will have a similar body type and game as Lattimore. Like Lattimore, Mathews also brings in-state roots to the Buckeyes, giving him a firm understanding of what the expectations are as he starts his Ohio State career.
“We’re going to be part of the BIA like we already are, best in America," Mathews said. "We’re going to come in and work every day."