A year ago at this time, Steele Chambers was an Ohio State running back who was thinking about moonlighting as a linebacker while helping out with defensive campers at OSU’s annual one-day camps for high schoolers.
The eventual position move wasn’t confirmed until fall camp opened and Chambers was spotted with the linebackers.
After one practice, head coach Ryan Day showcased his prescience by saying of Chambers, “There’s a great opportunity for him to get on the field there.”
It wasn’t even one month into the season before it started to look like Chambers may have been one of the 11 best defenders on the team. In fact, Chambers’ value was even taken into account when planning for a coin toss in a game at Nebraska. The week prior against Penn State, Chambers was ejected in the second half for targeting, which meant that he would be missing the first half of the game against the Huskers. Because of this, had the Buckeyes won the toss, they were planning to take the ball first so that they could possibly have one more defensive “possession” with Chambers on the field. Nebraska won the toss and deferred, allowing OSU to take the ball to start the game anyway.
That was quite a nod to a player who hadn’t even started a game to that point. Chambers did end up starting the last four games of the season after the Nebraska game, however. He finished fifth on the team with 47 total tackles, and his 27 solo tackles were second among linebackers.
Last year was a season-long learning experience for Chambers. This year, he has a better grasp on defense, aside from the fact that there’s a brand new defensive coordinator in Jim Knowles and a brand new defensive scheme.
“As far as opportunity and where I was going, I feel a lot more comfortable,” Chambers said this spring. “But as far as scheme and getting a defense down, I kind of feel like I’m in the same boat. Brand new defense. Like a whole new defensive staff that comes in and changes everything. But it’s for the better and I’m having a great time.”
While Chambers feels more comfortable, he knows there is still a long way to go for both himself and this defense. After all, a new defensive coordinator was brought in for a reason. And when looking back on his play from last season, Chambers grits his teeth more than he smiles, especially when it comes to the Michigan game.
“I cringe mostly,” he said after recently rewatching film from the 42-27 loss. “I haven’t seen it until then and now the stuff’s pretty sickening. That was pretty rough. And I feel like that game overall just kind of determines what kind of season we had, and based on that, that wasn’t too good.”
The purpose of the new hires on defense is to make sure something like that never happens again. It has created both a sense or urgency and excitement.
“I’m really excited. Me and [middle linebacker] Tommy [Eichenberg] talk about it every day,” Chambers said. “It’s this brand new defense. I guess it’s because it’s new, but just the freshness of it just really feels like a deep breath of air or whatever. Just fun getting to do something new. Getting to do new jobs and stuff. Just run around. Have fun.”
All of that running around and having fun has hindered Chambers’ weight gain a bit, which is an entirely different kind of growing pain that he has gone through as well.
The goal is for him to play at 235 pounds this season, but by the end of last season he was fluctuating between 215 and 220 pounds. That’s a tough ask for a Big Ten linebacker having to deal with the likes of Michigan and Utah at the point of attack.
“I mean, I’m struggling a little bit,” Chambers said of his weight gain this spring. “I got up to like 232 and now I’m starting to not eat as much. I’ve just got a lot class and then I’m here, so I’m down to like 228 or so. Got to get that back up a little bit. Eat some more Wheaties or something. Personally, I would love to be at 225 but I’ve got to be a little thicker in the gut.”
The Freshman 15 used to wait for no man, but now four years in for Chambers it has almost become weight for no man.
He will eventually be where he needs to be, which just happens to be the exact job description for playing linebacker. One year into his new life, Chambers has a much better grasp on being a linebacker, which also means he is finally ready to let go.
“I guess I feel a lot more free,” he said. “I’m pretty confident in my play style now, so even if I don’t know something, I just go get the ball. With last year, I felt at the beginning I was just doubting myself with a lot of stuff, just not really sure what to do in what moments. Now I kind of just go.”