CHICAGO – As a freshman in 2014, Curtis Samuel – who enrolled early with Ohio State after a record-setting career at Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School – was not expected to see the ball much. The versatile and talented (then) tailback surprised many when he surpassed Bri’onte Dunn and others and finished fourth on the Buckeyes roster – behind only Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, and Cardale Jones – with 58 carries.
In order to find more ways to get Samuel the ball in 2015, the Buckeyes decided it was in their best interest to take him out of the backfield, choosing instead to put him at wide receiver. That decision backfired: Samuel touched the ball only 39 times (22 catches, 17 carries) compared to the 69 times he did as a freshman as the Buckeyes struggled to spread the ball around to the seemingly endless offensive weapons that littered the roster.
“It was Curtis Samuel and Braxton,” Buckeyes captain J.T. Barrett said when asked why some players didn’t see the ball as much as they could’ve. “OK, let’s talk about Mike Thomas. Want me to keep on going? Jalin Marshall. It was deep everywhere and there’s only one football. Somebody is not getting the ball. We were so deep, it’s one of those things like ‘Who do you want to touch it that play?’ Zeke too, Zeke had to get his touches and make sure he got himself going in our room, it was a sticky situation for sure.”
For the Buckeyes to find a less sticky situation in 2016? Barrett says that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Samuel will have to see the football a lot more.
“Curtis Samuel is going to get the ball, Curtis Samuel needs to get the ball,” Barrett said. “It doesn’t matter how he gets it, I think he’s very dynamic, one of the most dynamic players on our team when he gets the ball in his hands, whether it be running back, H-back, punt return, kick off, I really don’t. As long as Curtis Samuel touches the ball.”
Barrett isn’t the only one who sees getting the ball to Samuel as a priority.
“In my mind, he’s one of the top two or three playmakers on the team,” Urban Meyer said. “He’ll get the ball – I don’t know it yet, but over 10 – 10-15 (touches per game) range is my initial look. He’s got to stay healthy. He’s had nicks, just little issues here and there, that kept him out of games or practices. So he’s got to stay healthy.”
Staying on the field has been a challenge for Ohio State’s wide receivers in the last two seasons and Samuel was affected again this spring. He was forced to sit out for he entire spring while he recovered from foot surgery, an injury that had hampered him most of the 2015 season. Now healthy, Samuel’s high school coach – Danny Landberg – told Landof10 that Buckeyes fans may be in for a treat.
“You have not seen his ceiling yet,” Landberg said. “I think when Braxton (Miller) moved to H-back it kind of slowed down his development – not that we blame (Urban) Meyer for it because he has to get his best weapons on the field, but having so many of them, someone will get the ball less. I just think it will Curtis now because he has something to prove. His mindset now is the same as when I challenged him to lead us to our first NYC championship in 2012, when he’d get the ball 25 times a game.”
Urban Meyer thinks Curtis Samuel needs the ball more. Danny Landberg wants Curtis Samuel to see the ball more. J.T. Barrett thinks Curtis Samuel needs the ball more. Pat Elflein and Raekwon McMillan think Curtis Samuel needs the ball more.
“We need to get him the ball any way possible,” McMillan said on Tuesday. “If it’s at running back, or quarterback or receiver, whatever it is, we need to get Curtis Samuel the ball.”
“Me and J.T. talk a lot about the offense,” Elflein said. “(Barrett) says that Curtis is the real deal and that he’s going to get the ball a lot this year.”
The theme is consistent, but can Samuel be? Landberg, who was as much father-figure as he was coach, said Ohio State has delivered the change in Samuel they promised they would.
“I think, for me, it was very important that Curtis got developed by Mick Marotti,” Landberg said. “To me, he’s the difference. I knew he would be. Curtis needed to be pushed mentally and physically. Mick made him tougher psychologically. As a Brooklyn kid myself, I learned that you do as others do. Watching a majority of people working hard and having set goals, that makes you humble and realize that we need to do more for ourselves to make it. Curtis has good common sense. He surrounds himself with good kids. Raekwon McMillan, Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, etc. Those kids don’t get in trouble and have goals in life. ”
While goals beyond the game are vital for longterm personal development, there’s still a short-term goal for Samuel and the Buckeyes: to step into the holes left by a ton of departing talent and to prove that “next man up” isn’t just theory, but reality. Ohio State is confident that Curtis Samuel will fill that role, wherever he lines up, and so is his former head coach.
“He is more than ready to be the guy,” Landberg said. “I’ve been around him long enough to know what I’m talking about. He was brought (to Ohio State) to be in that Percy Harvin-role, which is who he looked up to when he was younger, but I always thought he was more a Reggie Bush-type. His 0-60, from a change of direction mode, that’s where he’s best. With (Bri’onte) Dunn leaving, you will see what I’m talking about.”
More than ready for his chance to shine, Curtis Samuel just needs to get the ball more.
“He has that ‘Eye of the Tiger’ now,” Landberg added. “He has not been able to show it yet, but when he’s given the right opportunity, he can do some immortal things with the ball in his hands.”