Better Know a Buckeye: Jaylen McClain Could Star on Special Teams Before Becoming A Do-It-All Safety As an Upperclassman for Ohio State

By Josh Poloha on June 13, 2024 at 10:10 am
Jaylen McClain

Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2024 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.

One of two safeties in Ohio State's 2024 recruiting class, Jaylen McClain (No. 36 safety, No. 372 overall) is the only player from New Jersey who committed to the Buckeyes this cycle.

How He Became a Buckeye

Jaylen McClain

  • Size: 6-0/192
  • Pos: S
  • School: Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, New Jersey)
  • Star Rating: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: #372 (#36 S)

Although Ohio State wasn't listed on McClain's initial top 10 schools – Notre Dame, Penn State, USC, Oregon, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers, Stanford, Tennessee and Georgia – in early 2023, that quickly changed after the Buckeyes offered the four-star safety on March 2, 2023.

Following that offer, Ryan Day and then-Ohio State safeties coach Perry Eliano put on a full-court press for McClain, making him a priority in the 2024 class. A little over three months later, their efforts paid off, as the New Jersey product committed to the Buckeyes on June 12, 2023, following an official visit to OSU on June 9.

"It was definitely the standard," McClain said in March about his decision to become a Buckeye. "I wanna be a winner. If you wanna win this is the perfect school to go to."

He became the first defensive back in the class for OSU. He became the second safety from New Jersey to sign with Ohio State in as many years, following Jayden Bonsu in the 2023 class. Other New Jersey products to don the scarlet and gray in recent years include Cody Simon, Ronnie Hickman and Luke Wypler.

"We bring a certain toughness," McClain said of New Jersey players. "We bring something that no one else has. ... (The success of players from New Jersey at Ohio State) is one of the main reasons players come here."

High School Years

As a junior, McClain racked up 83 tackles with a sack and interception. While playing sparely on the offensive side of the ball, he totaled five receptions for 22 yards and five carries for 17 yards and a touchdown.

The Seton Hall Prep star followed that up with 126 tackles during his senior season, in which he also blocked both a punt and a field goal.

Throughout his time in high school, the 6-foot, 192-pound safety utilized his ability to be both a hard-hitting safety in the box and a lockdown coverage safety, covering slot receivers man-to-man while coming down to play as an extra linebacker on certain plays.

McClain also ran track in high school with personal bests of 11.06 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 22.77 seconds in the 200.

Immediate Impact

Given that the starting safeties – Caleb Downs and Lathan Ransom – are locked in this season, McClain’s best path to the field as a true freshman will come on special teams, where he hopes to make an immediate impact.

"I want to be a value for the team," McClain said of his goals for his freshman season. "I want to make special teams plays. I wanna even play safety but I know we have a lot of depth so I could add value to the back end. Obviously, I'm learning still but I have a lot of people to learn from, but I still wanna be able to play and make an impact for the team."

He did just that in the spring game, intercepting a pass from Julian Sayin on the final play of the game.

Given that safety is a position where the Buckeyes lack depth, McClain will likely be on the three-deep as a freshman. He'll be part of a group of backups that includes Malik Hartford, South Carolina transfer Keenan Nelson Jr. and Bonsu.

Long-Term Impact

With Ransom entering his final season of eligibility, there will be an open spot atop the depth chart at strong safety in 2025. McClain could be a candidate to fill that spot, but so too will Hartford, Nelson and Bonsu. As such, McClain’s most likely path to the field for both of his first two seasons might come on special teams, where his build and speed give him the chance to make an early impact.

By the time he becomes an upperclassman, though, McClain would be a real candidate for a starting job in Ohio State’s secondary. McClain's speed, physicality and nose for the ball could allow Knowles to deploy him both in the secondary and in the box.

A starting job won’t be handed to McClain with the safety talent Ohio State will continue to bring in on the recruiting trail, but he’s setting his goals high for himself as he begins his Buckeye career.

"I wanna beat that team up north every time, Big Ten championships, obviously win a national championship, be a freshman All-American this year and an All-American every year and then obviously the NFL," McClain said of his goals for his collegiate career.

Player Comparison: Kurt Coleman

The former Buckeye had quite a career at Ohio State, playing in seven games as a freshman before playing in every game the following three seasons. While having a major role in the defensive backfield, Coleman accumulated 210 tackles (10 for loss), three sacks, nine interceptions and a touchdown during his final three years in Columbus. During his senior season, the 5-foot-11, 208-pound safety totaled 68 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles, earning first-team All-Big Ten and first-team All-American honors after he was second-team All-Big Ten as a junior.

Known for his truck-sticking ability close to the line of scrimmage paired with his ability to drop back into pass coverage, Coleman was a versatile safety that Ohio State's defense leaned on to make plays all over the field. He became a seventh-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

If McClain develops as hoped, he has the potential to play both safety positions like Coleman did at Ohio State and make a similar impact by the end of his Buckeye career.

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