Graduate transfer running back Trey Sermon, freshman wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and freshman safety Kourt Williams are the first three Buckeyes to lose their black stripes in 2020.
If back in February an online sportsbook had set odds on who would be the first players to lose their black stripes this year, the three players with the highest odds may have been the three players listed above.
As a refresher, all newcomers to the Ohio State football program have a black stripe placed over the scarlet stripe going down the middle of their helmets. When the player has practiced well enough or achieved a goal or simply impressed a coach for his overall approach, the black stripe is removed from his helmet and he “officially” becomes a full-fledged member of the Ohio State football team. The ceremonies, which are always showcased on Twitter, are handled by OSU’s director of player development Ryan Stamper.
Sermon was the overwhelming favorite to be the first to lose his stripe because he even though he was transferring over from Oklahoma, he is a veteran and years removed from any of this being new for him. So when Sermon was the first to lose his stripe following practice last Wednesday it was met with absolutely no surprise.
Sermon has 2,076 career rushing yards, 391 career yards receiving, and has scored 25 touchdowns. If he wasn’t the first player to have his stripe removed it would have raised some eyebrows.
The only real surprise so far is that players are losing stripes before any actual contact is taking place.
That, however, is more about circumstances than anything else.
“Yeah, it was good,” Day said on his radio show of Sermon’s stripe removal. “Ryan Stamper said ‘Is it about time to get these black stripes off?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got a season, so we might as well start doing it.’ And Trey is a fifth-year guy and has done everything we’ve asked him to do since he’s been here.”
When it came to the freshmen, both Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Kourt Williams were two of the more likely guesses to lose their black stripes first, especially after talking to both of them way back in February and hearing how Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talked about them as well.
And that was before seeing either of them practice in the spring or fall.
Both players enrolled early, so Day got great feedback from strength coach Mickey Marotti, which just continued to confirm his thoughts on both players.
“First off, Kourt, I’ll be surprised if he’s not a captain when he’s here. I’ve said that to him and his parents a million times,” Day said back on signing day. “They’re probably tired of hearing me say that. But state champ in California, which is not easy to do. He comes from a great program, same program as Wyatt Davis, and the coaches at Bosco do an unbelievable job. To go and win the way they did in the state championship, play the way that they played, he’s playing at a high level, and he’s got a lot of versatility. He can do a lot of things. So we’re going to find different ways to get him on the field.”
When a coach predicts a player to be a future captain, it has as much to do with what he sees off the field as on it. The attitude, demeanor, and work ethic come into play as well, which is the case for Williams who is currently at safety but may ultimately be a bullet down the road.
“That’s what they’ve been telling me,” Williams said about his potential future at bullet back in February. “But I’m just focused on working hard right now and earning the respect of my teammates and coaches. I’m not really focused on the other stuff, just training and trying to get better. Just whatever fit is needed. I’m gonna work hard and do my part in all facets. And whatever happens, happens. If I play safety, linebacker, it doesn’t really matter. I just want to play. I want to get on the field.”
Day mentioned Williams on last week’s radio show as somebody who was impressing early at safety, so the black stripe removal on Monday of this week was no surprise.
Neither was it a surprise to see Jaxon Smith-Njigba have his stripe removed following the same Monday practice.
Smith-Njigba was a 5-star signee who produced over 2,000 yards receiving last year in high school. He then showed in the first spring practice for the Buckeyes back in March that his numbers weren’t just due to him being in a pass-happy system. They were also due to the fact that he gets open and he catches everything.
In that one practice, he was arguably the best receiver on the field. Together, he and sophomore Garrett Wilson will combine for a very tough-to-defend duo in the slot for the Buckeyes.
Don’t expect another 2,000-yards receiving season from Smith-Njigba in his time as a Buckeye, but the playmaking has already shown well enough to send his black stripe packing.
“It’s exciting when you see stuff like that,” Day said on signing day of Smith-Njigba’s high school production. “When you just see the numbers, over 200 yards receiving a game, one-handed catches, releases where guys fall down on the ground. Yeah, that gets exciting.”
That excitement has continued in fall camp for the Buckeyes, especially since much of what goes on right now is 7-on-7s between the receivers and defensive backs. Everyone has gotten a good, long look at Jaxon Smith-Njigba and there were no dissenters when it came to getting rid of his black stripe.
What made it all happen so quickly? As with Kourt Williams, it’s as much about attitude as anything else.
And full speed is the best speed.
“You just gotta be yourself, honestly. Whatever these coaches ask you to do, you just gotta do it and do it to your best ability,” Smith-Njigba said back in the winter. “There’s not really much to it. I come in here every morning, of course I make mistakes, we all make mistakes, especially as freshmen, but I just come in here and I do my best, work my hardest and go full speed.”