COLUMBUS, Ohio — New Ohio State assistant Taver Johnson had heard all about the speed when arrived, but he had to see it for himself.
It’s safe to assume now that there wasn’t a whole lot that could have prepared him for the show that Kendall Sheffield was about to put on. Or the way he looked when he was flying down the track.
“I thought somebody was chasing him with a knife or something,” Johnson said. “Yeah, I heard he was fast, but then I actually went and watched him.
“You know, he looked scared when he was running.”
That’s just fast he is.
Now it’s opposing receivers who should be the ones looking terrified as they gear up for matchups with the junior cornerback, who instead of relaxing with his free time this offseason decided to compete on the track team and showcase his athleticism in a different arena.
There certainly won’t be many guys capable of winning head-to-head foot races on the football field against an athlete who broke an Ohio State record that had stood for 23 years before he posted a time of 6.63 seconds in the 60-meter dash. Of course, it takes more than just straight-line speed to become an elite defensive back, but Sheffield already has proved he’s got the ability to be one of the best in the game when he leaves the track and steps on the football field.
Considering how much Sheffield improved his technique, enhanced his confidence and developed into a lock-down threat in coverage throughout last season, he could well be on the way to becoming the program’s next first-round draft pick at the position.
“I definitely think he’s able to show how much of a freak athlete he is with the track times and then coming back and having a really good performance this spring,” fellow cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. “He’s had about 10 forced fumbles. When the receivers see him coming around, they all brace for impact.”
Add that physical strength to the list of attributes, and it’s easy to see why Sheffield was so coveted by Ohio State as a recruit — not once, but twice.
The former 5-star prospect initially spurned the Buckeyes in favor of Alabama, but when that didn’t work out, Ohio State wound up with a second crack at him after he spent a season at the junior-college level. Sheffield is poised to capitalize on all that potential heading into a second season of prominent action.
A quiet, reserved guy who routinely denies interview requests, he struggled through some growing pains early last season. But by the end of the year, Sheffield had racked up 40 tackles from his spot in the secondary, broke up 9 passes, and added a forced fumble and a recovery as well. All of those numbers have the potential to increase this season, which could put him in line to follow in the first-round footsteps that Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and likely Denzel Ward left at Ohio State.
“All the lifting and all that, [track] didn’t take away from it at all,” Johnson said. “If anything, you like that he’s competing. Any time you compete, that helps you out.
“You know, he’s done a really nice job of concentrating on his eyes. Playing this position for sure, what you look at is everything — and when you’re supposed to look at it. He’s done a really, really good job. Probably one of the best jobs in the room at making sure he does that … and it’s getting him in even better position to make some plays.”
Be warned, opposing receivers.
The time to start running scared — the time when Sheffield is lined up across the line of scrimmage — is coming soon.