COLUMBUS -- Tanner McCalister knew playing at Ohio State would be different than playing at Oklahoma State.
He still wasn’t quite prepared for the spectacle of opening night at Ohio Stadium, though, when an NBA champion and MVP happened to be among the 106,594 in attendance as the Buckeyes topped Notre Dame 21-10.
“Man, it’s been surreal,” the Rockwall, Texas, native said this week. “I mean, that first game against Notre Dame, obviously that’s a dream come true. LeBron James is somebody I looked up to my whole life. I had FatHeads of him in my room and all that, so being able to meet him, shake his hand in person, having him at the game watching me play, watching us play, it’s a dream come true.
“I’s been amazing. I’m glad we’ve been able to collect two wins so far.”
McCalister arrived in January, following new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Columbus for one last season of college football.
A multi-year starter for Knowles at the other OSU, McCalister has stepped into the role of No. 1 nickel safety for the Buckeyes and been credited with a pair of tackles so far.
He’s also helped his new teammates pick up Knowles’ scheme, a process he’s been impressed with.
“We’ve been flying around,” McCalister said. “I mean, the D-line looks amazing. It makes our job easy. It’s not really much for us to do back there when they’re doing their job.
“That’s great. That’s good defense, so that’s definitely exceeded my expectations. Coming here I knew everything was going to be new for everybody, but everybody picked it up great, and we’ve got great athletes making great plays.
“I’m excited to keep building because there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
While the Buckeyes adjust to Knowles’ defense on the field, McCalister has had to learn what life is like off it at a new place.
That includes weekly organized media availabilities such as the one he was part of Wednesday night with three tables set up for players and dozens of reporters gathered around each one to pick their brains.
“I didn’t have things like this,” he said. “Some people, maybe one guy, I talked to the media after practice someday, but it wasn’t cameras and microphones like this. So it’s definitely different.
“Oklahoma State’s a great program as well, but being in Columbus is a kind of a different city than when I was in Stillwater, but I’ve enjoyed it. I feel like I’m media-trained so it’s fun. I know the fans enjoy it, so I’m here for it.”...
At the other end of the experience spectrum is another newcomer who hopes he is just getting started.
Caden Curry, a freshman defensive end from Indiana, made a strong first impression last Saturday with four tackles, including one for loss, in the fourth quarter.
“He proved himself with step one getting in there and making plays, and that’ll earn him more opportunities,” Knowles said Tuesday.
“Caden is a guy who I noticed from the start when I got here because he has a tremendous first step, and he’s tough.”
Curry was one of the last members to join the 2022 recruiting class, but he was the first to take the field via special teams against Notre Dame.
Then he was the first to get into a play on defense a week later as Ohio State blew out Arkansas State.
“I’m just blessed they gave me the opportunity to be the first out of all of us, but I’m just going to keep working just like the rest of the freshmen,” he said.
Other freshmen to make their debuts last Saturday included Jyaire Brown and Tegra Tshabola, both from Lakota West, and former Alter standout C.J. Hicks.
Brown saw time at cornerback in the fourth quarter while Tshabola came on at one of the guard spots with the second-team offensive line.
Hicks, the highest-rated member of the class, was spotted on the punt return team as competition for playing time at linebacker remains stiff.
“C.J.’s got great talent, a great attitude,” said Knowles, who also coaches the linebackers. “He’s young.”
He explained building experience for the freshmen can be more challenging after the first couple of weeks of preseason camp.
“Even halfway through training camp, you’ve kind of made your decisions (about who is going to start), and then you’ve got to start getting those guys reps,” Knowles said. “So it’s hard to get him quality reps in practice. I think he’s gonna have a bright career, but it’s hard to get him in the mix right now.”