Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington have emerged as the starting defensive ends for Ohio State. And while they may be young and inexperienced, the OSU coaches won’t have to worry about coming up with ways to keep the pair motivated.
Spence and Washington are doing that for each other.
The former five-star recruits are considered surefire future stars — coach Urban Meyer said they’ll be all Big Ten players someday — and the two roommates are waging a duel between themselves this year, keeping an eye on the stats to see who comes out on top.
“Since day one when we first got here, we’ve been like best friends,” Spence said. “We compete with each other to make each other better every day. Basically, in practice, I’m not going to let him get a sack (before) I get one.
“It’s always a grind, and we try to push each other, like, ‘I’m going to get more tackles than you, I’m going to get more sacks than you this year.’ We just make it a competition every day, and we make each other that much better.”
The 6-foot-3 Spence, who flipped his commitment from Penn State to OSU when Meyer was hired, was somewhat light for a defensive end as a freshman despite being a Parade All-American and the No. 2 prospect at the position in the ESPN.com ratings. He weighed only about 225 pounds but has bulked up to 253.
The Harrisburg, Pa., native has the speed to be a dominant edge rusher. He’ll play the Leo position, which means the coaches believe he’s agile enough to drop back into coverage occasionally.
Asked about Spence, Meyer said: “Extremely high character, will go hard. He’s what — when I tell our coaches or challenge our coaches to go out and find players — he’s what you go find. A very, very talented guy. Incredible self-discipline and self-respect. I love Noah Spence.”
The coaches also are enthralled with the 6-3, 292-pound Washington, who is nimble for his size but also has the sheer strength to bull-rush offensive linemen.
The Cincinnati Taft product — also a Parade All-American and the No. 3 defensive end prospect in the Scout.com ratings — had a reputation for being a man among boys in high school but also sometimes took plays off. That’s not the case now.
“He’s got a great motor,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “This summer, he’s put on a lot of strength and quickness. He’s only a sophomore in college, and I feel like I’m blocking a guy who’s been here longer than that.
“The best thing about Adolphus is he’s a good guy off the field. He’s humble. And he doesn’t let anything go to his head. He’s a great player, great friend, great teammate.”
Having been matched up against both Washington and Spence in drills, Mewhort said: “They have different styles of play, so it’s hard to compare, but they’re both a challenge to block.”
Washington is a strong-side defensive end. John Simon handled that spot last year, and though he was a little undersized at about 265 pounds, he became the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell expects similar production from Washington.
“We’ve got a ceiling set for him that’s extremely high,” Fickell said. “That guy has unbelievable ability. He’s a great kid. You love him to death. We’re going to continue to push him and push him and push him.
“As much as John Simon was the best kid we had last year, John was probably playing a little out of position in some of the things we were asking him to do. Adolphus, being that same position, obviously isn’t the same person as John Simon but has the ability to do a lot of those things we expect out of that spot — like a Cameron Heyward (an NFL first-round draft pick in 2011). We can get back to doing some of those things that we’ve done the last five years.”