In January 2002, former Ohio State Buckeyes All-American safety Mike Doss could have elected to forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft. Instead, he decided to return for his senior season. Doss wanted to receive his degree before playing in the NFL because his education was very important to him, but there was one other thing: He had unfinished business and wanted to help lead the Buckeyes to a national championship. On January 3, 2003, he and Ohio State did just that, defeating the juggernaut Miami Hurricanes to win the title, a feat that no one thought they could achieve given just how dominant the ‘Canes were.
Sixteen years to the day after that national championship, Buckeyes safety Jordan Fuller announced that he will return for his senior season instead of foregoing his final year of eligibility and declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft last Wednesday night. Not only to get his degree but because he has “unfinished business” and wants help lead the Buckeyes to a national title before he goes to the next level.
“I had a long talk with my parents and older brother about it. We all thought it would be in my best interest to stay for multiple reasons. One was that Ohio State has been nothing but amazing to me. Everything from school, to football, to my teammates, to our Real Life Wednesday program has helped me become the man I am today. I think another year would only benefit me,” Fuller told Lettermen Row’s Austin Ward.
“Also, personally, I feel like my best football is ahead of me. I have a whole other level of my game that I want to tap into. Lastly, my teammates are a big part of why I wanted to stay. We’re all so close and feel like there’s unfinished business we need to take care of.”
“We’re all so close and feel like there’s unfinished business we need to take care of.”
You see the parallels, right? Doss and Fuller not only share the same position on the football field, but they seem to have the same mindset in terms of school and what they want to achieve while donning the scarlet and gray as well. Now, Fuller must come through on his second goal, just like Doss did 16 years ago.
A captain in 2018 and the starting safety for each of the last two seasons, Fuller could have decided to enter the draft and most likely would have been a mid-round pick. Instead, he will be one of the Buckeyes’ most prominent leaders in 2019. Fuller led Ohio State with 81 tackles this past season, while also grabbing an interception and recovering two fumbles as well. He was the quarterback of the secondary, one that the Buckeyes are glad to have back for next season.
As a group, the Silver Bullets posted one of the worst statistical seasons defensively in Ohio State history, but with a secondary that returns (at least) Brendon White, Jeffrey Okudah, and Shaun Wade, the defensive backfield is in good hands next fall. Cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette could return as well, but they have a decision looming on if they want to declare for the upcoming NFL Draft or not first. If those two return as well, the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield should improve drastically ahead of next fall.
Keep in mind, White was named the Defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl and didn’t even start his first game until Week 11. If it wasn’t for Fuller getting ejected for targetting against Nebraska, White most likely would have never gotten that opportunity to prove just how good he can be. The kid’s a playmaker and game-changer. With a full offseason to play with the first-team defense paired with learning from (and next to) Fuller, the ball-hawking safety is just another reason the Buckeyes will be very improved defensively.
With Fuller back in the fold, along with linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive linemen Jonathon Cooper and Robert Landers all deciding to return, the Buckeyes will have a group of seniors on their defense that are not only talented and experienced but are leaders as well. Losing talented players such as Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones will no doubt be tough to replace, but with all the young talent Ohio State has combined with upperclassmen, it’s a great combination to have. Don’t underestimate the value of having senior leaders on defense, especially when it’s at all three levels of the field.
Head coach Ryan Day has plenty of decisions to make about which assistant coaches he will retain, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but one thing is clear: The Buckeyes at least have the talent to be very solid defensively, unlike they were throughout this past season. Development is key, but they will likely be one of the Buckeyes’ best groups next fall. No matter who is coaching the defense next fall, the Buckeyes return enough talent that the only way to go is up, especially after such a dismal season for the Silver Bullets. With leaders, experience, and talent, they have the perfect combination to be something special if they continue to improve and gel throughout the offseason.
Maybe, just maybe, Fuller will be able to fulfill his second goal, just like Doss did 16 years ago. Only time will tell, but until then, Buckeye Nation can count on the fact that the Silver Bullets will be vastly improved next fall, especially if that includes a makeover on the defensive coaching staff as well.