COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the offseason between his first and second season at Ohio State, Urban Meyer created what he called “the Reid Fragel award.”
Fragel, who spent the first three years of his college career as a tight end, converted to right tackle in 2012 and played well enough to be selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft. Without his sudden development, the Buckeyes likely wouldn’t have enjoyed a 12-0 season in Meyer’s debut campaign.
“We’re going to call that the Fragel award; (he) was a very below-average football player who turned out to be a very good football player for Ohio State University,” Meyer said. “Who’s going to be that guy that’s coming out of nowhere?”
While Meyer has failed to actually honor a player with the distinction each season, its theoretical recipients haven’t been hard to figure out. In 2014, Darron Lee made the transformation from position-less redshirt freshman to future first-round pick. This past year, safety Malik Hooker enjoyed similar success.
Who will be next season’s recipient of the Fragel award? The beauty of it is, right now, we don’t know.
But here’s a look at five potential players who could be in line for breakout seasons in 2017.
Of all the players on Ohio State’s roster, Eric Glover-Williams most fits the Fragel/Lee/Hooker profile. A former high-profile recruit, Glover-Williams redshirted in 2015 before playing primarily on special teams this past season.
But in Fiesta Bowl practice, where the former 4-star prospect helped emulate Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Glover-Williams shined. So much so, that his teammates even began lobbying the Buckeyes offensive staff to put the ball in the Canton (Ohio) McKinley product’s hands.
“He doesn’t always get to show his ability, but you do get to see it on special teams. He’s one of the fastest guys on this team,” said linebacker Chris Worley. “Not a lot of people can run that fast. He can run that fast and stop on a dime and get to 20 miles per hour in seven steps going a different direction. Not many guys in college football can do that.”
With playing time available in the Buckeyes secondary in the coming season, 2017 could be Glover-Williams’ time to shine. At the very least, it hardly would be surprising to see him receive an expanded role on special teams, particularly one that places the ball in the now-redshirt sophomore’s hands.
OK, so perhaps a breakout season from Demario McCall wouldn’t be all that much of a surprise. In limited playing time in 2016, the true freshman showed flashes of being Ohio State’s next great offensive weapon.
But with expanded playing time expected in the coming year, it might not be long until McCall moves from mop-up duty to college football’s spotlight. It’s a role the speedy freshman running back desperately craves, whether it comes by way of his current position or a shift to H-back.
“I think about that a lot — I think about that a whole lot,” McCall said of his potential star power in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. “I do want to be that guy. And I will be that guy. One day.”
For now, current Buckeyes H-back Curtis Samuel remains undecided on whether or not he’ll return to Ohio State in 2017. If he doesn’t, a natural successor in McCall is already in place.
In past years, a player like freshman linebacker Malik Harrison would have likely redshirted in his freshman season. But as Meyer shifted his philosophy this past season, Harrison benefitted, receiving playing time in mop-up duty and on special teams.
Tallying 13 tackles and a sack in 11 games, the 6-foot-3, 228-linebacker showed plenty of promise, even though there doesn’t appear to be a natural spot for him in the Buckeyes’ starting lineup in 2017. But on a unit that prides itself on versatility, there’s always place for a player like Harrison, who is adept in both run support and coverage.
As the Ohio State secondary endures another makeover, Harrison could potentially aid the Buckeyes back-seven in nickel and dime situations. Some players are just too talented to keep off the field.
Like Harrison, there doesn’t appear to be an open spot for offensive tackle Malcolm Pridgeon in Ohio State’s starting lineup. But that could soon change.
With the way right tackle Isaiah Prince struggled in his sophomore season, his starting spot on the Buckeyes offensive line is hardly safe entering 2017. And unlike last season, he’ll now have a player pushing him as Pridgeon is fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him his 2016 campaign.
A junior college transfer, Pridgeon arrived in Columbus a year ago as a 4-star prospect. After taking a medical redshirt in 2016, he now has two years of eligibility remaining — the same as Prince, perhaps putting the two right tackles on equal footing in a potential position battle in the coming year.
Perhaps the best candidate for being “the next Malik Hooker” is the player who could potentially replace him in the Buckeyes’ lineup.
A former 4-star prospect, Erick Smith arrived at Ohio State with a promising career ahead of him, but injuries have limited the Cleveland Glenville product in his first three seasons. A redshirt junior-to-be, Smith has recorded 33 tackles in 17 games in his Ohio State career.
As the Buckeyes look to replace their All-American safety, however, Smith could be the next man up. And if he can stay healthy, he certainly has the talent to make the most of the opportunity.