Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has an initiation process for freshmen to become a true part of the team. He puts a piece of electrical tape on their helmets and then allows it to be peeled off only after they prove themselves as players, making them full-fledged members of the Buckeyes.
The rookies don’t take the ritual lightly. Right tackle Taylor Decker said he’s been hounding offensive line coach Ed Warinner about joining safety Devan Bogard and defensive end Noah Spence as the lone newcomers who have done enough so far to have those black stripes removed.
“It’s tough being an O-lineman,” Decker said. “I’ve been asking coach Warinner, ‘I thought I played well today, do I get my stripe off?’
“I think he’s probably more focused on getting us all ready to go more than, ‘Oh, is Taylor going to get his stripe off?’ But I can’t wait till I do so I can officially be a Buckeye.”
The way Decker is performing, he likely won’t have to wait long. He graduated early enough from Vandalia Butler High School to participate in spring practices, and he’s been soaring up the depth chart since arriving at OSU.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pounder is fighting senior Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, for the sole position on the offensive line still up for grabs.
“Every day is like a tryout — especially when you’re in the position I am, trying to compete for a starting spot,” Decker said. “But there’s millions of kids who would want to be in the position I’m in and be an Ohio State Buckeye.”
Decker almost didn’t get that chance. He originally committed to Notre Dame, but he changed his mind before signing day in February when Meyer was hired and offered him a scholarship.
“It was really hard for me. It was tough decision,” Decker said. “I know for a couple days, I tried not to talk to anybody. At first I felt like I should stay true to my word (to ND). But in the end, it was, ‘What’s best for me?’
“I always wanted to come to Ohio State. I’m an Ohio kid and always watched them growing up. Given the opportunity, I’d want to take full advantage of it.”
Meyer said the production at right tackle isn’t where it needs to be, noting that the inexperience of the two candidates is showing. But the 6-8, 310-pound Fragel believes that spot won’t be a weak link on the line.
“I know I can help the team win some games. I believe I can start at offensive line for the Ohio State Buckeyes,” Fragel said. “But Taylor is great. He’s great competition. He only makes me get better, and I get him better in return.”
Decker has surprised himself by even being considered starting material.
“Coming in, did I think I’d be able to compete like that? Honestly, no. But I’m happy I’ve been able to take advantage of the physical tools I’ve been given,” he said. “I’m definitely pumped up for it. I just hope I can get on the field.”
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