Hype continues to build for true freshman Malik Hartford at Ohio State

Lakota West grad has impressed in lead up to Saturday’s season opener

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Another day of Ohio State football interviews meant another round of praise for Malik Hartford.

This time head coach Ryan Day talking about the quick ascension of the true freshman safety from Lakota West.

“I remember some of the highlights he had coming out of high school, I mean, just a really fast, violent player,” Day said. “Then when he got here, we quickly learned that there was more to him than just that.”

Day praised Hartford’s maturity and instincts then relayed another reason he is impressed with the youngster: Hartford helped him win a friendly wager against defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

“I think he came in at 169 (pounds), and I said by the time August camp hits, he’s gonna be over 190. Coach Knowles jumped on the bet, and I won. He came in at 192. So from January to August, he really got after in the weight room.”

That led the coaching staff to determine he deserves to see the field Saturday when the Buckeyes open the season at Indiana, but how much remains to be seen.

“He’s done everything he’s been asked to do,” Day said. “He’s still is a freshman, so we’ll be smart early on in this game, but really excited about his future.”

Hartford is one of three players in the mix to be the starting middle safety or “Adjuster” in Knowles’ defense.

Senior Josh Proctor and transfer Ja’Had Carter are also part of the conversation at the position, and Day said the veterans both have the ability to play multiple spots while they have limited using Hartford at one position to allow him to learn it completely.

Knowles has been singing Hartford’s praises since the spring, and that continued Tuesday. “Smart. Football intelligence,” Knowles said when asked why Hartford was trending up. “I had a guy at Oklahoma State, Kolby Harvell-Peel, who played for me as a freshman. I mean, these are guys rare. They come in, and they just have an understanding of the game and they find a way to get around the ball. So it jumps out at you.”

Nonetheless, a starting Adjuster has not been named yet.

With Lathan Ransom at the “Bandit” safety and Sonny Styles playing Nickel, the third safety could be filled by rotation.

“Josh has great closing speed, and we know that he will be a factor in terms of run support and getting to the ball,” Knowles said. “He kind of brings a different element with the way he comes high-low, inside-out. And then Ja’had, he’s he’s played a lot of football. So he’s coachable, he’s smart and he has experience.”


Ohio State at Indiana, 3:30 p.m., CBS, 1410

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