Ohio State secondary looking to build off strong season on field, recruiting trail

COLUMBUS — A year or so ago, Ohio State fans were uncertain what they had in Tim Walton.

The Buckeye secondary remained shaky in Walton’s first season as cornerbacks coach, and he was facing a recruiting season in which some big scores were available that he couldn’t afford to miss.

Now Walton is one of the most popular members of Ryan Day’s staff after producing impressive results on and off the field, but Walton said he hasn’t changed a thing.

“We’re just authentic,” he said of his recruiting approach that has helped produce commitments from 11 four- or five-star defensive back prospects and impact transfers Davison Igbinosun and Caleb Downs in the past two years. “Really don’t get into a lot of recruiting talk. It is what it is. Try to shoot straight. Honest communication. Honest assessment. The character, the value, the work ethic.”

The 53-year old Walton played cornerback at Ohio State and is more than halfway through his third decade as a football coach.

He speaks like the veteran mentor he is while finding a way to connect with players before and after they decided to don the Scarlet and Gray, as he did in the early 1990s.

The turnaround of the secondary has been impressive, including a defense that led the nation in passing yards allowed and finished second in defensive pass efficiency last season.

When he arrived in 2022, Ohio State was low on numbers and especially experience in the cornerback room.

Competition was hard to concoct — unless you count his guys getting torched in practice by Ohio State’s future first-round NFL Draft picks — but that has changed in a hurry.

After adding cornerbacks Jermaine Mathews Jr. and Calvin Hunt-Simpson from the high school ranks and Igbinosun from Mississippi last winter, Walton cleaned up in the summer by beating Michigan and many other major programs for five-star prospect Aaron Scott Jr. of Springfield and four-star Bryce West of Cleveland Glenville.

Four-star Miles Lockhart of Chandler, Ariz., also signed in December to give Walton a deep room for 2024 and a bright future for beyond when seniors Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock (and potentially Igbinosun, who will be eligible to enter the draft early) will be gone.

Walton has a lot to work with this spring, and he that is of course how he likes it

“The main thing is the competition,” he said. “You gotta compete. If you don’t want to compete, this is not gonna be the place for you because that’s the thing that will get us to where we need to go, the competition in the room. Guys here love to compete. We sell that. We’re looking for guys who embrace that and cherish being in those spots. It can take time to grow.”

Scott, who helped the Wildcats reach three straight Division I state championship games, is in the grind now trying to get acclimated to college football.

Although early playing time may be hard to secure this year, Walton has proven he is not afraid to play true freshmen, including Mathews last season.

That is the model for Scott and the other freshmen to follow, but Walton is also preaching patience.

“Sometimes you can be behind a guy who is a really good player and there’s nothing wrong with developing and growing and playing when your time is right,” he said. “If the time is right as a freshman like Jermaine, you play early. So we try to also sell that we care about them as people and try to prepare you for life after football.

“It’s bigger than football. We’re gonna prepare you for life, whether it’s the NFL or a regular career in the workforce. We want to prepare you as a young man, and we try to preach that to the parents.”

He likes what he has seen so far from Scott, who is listed 6-foot, 185 pounds on the spring roster.

“He’s still going in that transition is all, just like what happened with Jermaine last year,” Walton said. “You throw him in the fire, you let him go. You compete, you go, and by time we get to the end of training camp, you’ll have it figured out.

“He has the skill set. He has the length. Now you just got to put it all together, and it takes time to do that. And hopefully you see that by the time we get into training camp.”

For 2025, saying Ohio State is off to a hot start in defensive back recruiting would be an understatement.

Walton already has commitments from the top two cornerback prospects in the nation in 247Sports rankings, Devin Sanchez of Houston, Texas, and Na’eem Offord of Birmingham, Ala., with 10th-ranked Blake Woodby of Baltimore, Md., also in the fold.

Walton can’t talk about recruits who are yet to sign a letter of intent, but he said relationships are key.

“The guys that value character and appreciate that stuff, they’ll embrace that, but they to know you care and have to know it’s real and you care about them as a young man,” Walton said. “When you spend a lot of time with them off the field, you can coach them hard. You can say truthful things to them and they’ll embrace it.”

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