COLUMBUS, Ohio — Demario McCall’s chance to make an impact at Ohio State is finally here.
The sophomore H-back who has developed a cult following among Buckeyes fans for his explosive potential has been stymied in his first two years by the depth chart and lingering injuries. He got some touches in mop-up duty as a freshman in 2016, racking up 270 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground and 84 yards and a touchdown through the air. But a groin injury in 2017 kept him from ever truly getting going, and Ohio State eventually decided to pursue a medical redshirt.
There’s no reason to think he can’t contribute if healthy — even when hurt in 2017, he averaged 7.9 yards on 14 rushing attempts — but getting to the field isn’t as clear cut. As an H-back, McCall faces a challenging depth chart thanks to the return of Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, both of whom have produced in that role and have an experience advantage.
But Ohio State needs to get something out of McCall, and the fans clamoring to see him would no doubt have been excited to see the Buckeyes’ 2018 spring practice open with a period of McCall fielding punts. Hill was the primary punt returner in 2017 but will miss all of spring with a shoulder injury. McCall was an option for punt return duty last season before getting hurt, so this is a legitimate chance for him to carve out a role on the team.
“He had a very good day,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I want him to be our returner — kick and punt returner. And he’s training as if that’s the position. So he’s watching videotape. He’s training. He’s doing it no different than if he’s starting corner or starting receiver.
“He’s been a full-time H[-back]. That’s going to be able to move him around, be more of the Curtis Samuel H. And it’s on him. The job description is very clear. The first two years, it’s kind of on us. Once you start getting to be in Year 3, that’s on you. And you either need to perform or you’re not going to perform. And it’s on him. And the good thing is he’s responding very well.”
As Meyer said, the expectation at Ohio State is that players are contributing to the program by Year 3, regardless of previous circumstances. If McCall can stay healthy, he has a legitimate chance to get his foot in the door regardless of the depth chart. With Hill out and Campbell a fifth-year senior who won’t need too many reps, this spring is McCall’s chance to show the coaching staff that he can become the playmaker that so many fans believe he’ll be.