After all of these years, Demario McCall is still one of the most interesting players on the Ohio State football roster.
Since arriving from North Ridgeville with the class of 2016, he has made a habit of defying expectations — sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
He burst onto the scene with 54 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in his college debut against Bowling Green, adding a 36-yard reception to give another hint at his big-play ability.
Since then, he has been more hype than production, however.
Bouncing back and forth between running back and receiver, McCall has had the Next Big Thing label — or at least promises of being A Thing for the offense — attached multiple times but never found a niche.
After rushing for 270 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman, McCall posted 295 yards and three scores on the ground over the past four seasons. (He took a medical redshirt in 2017.)
He had four receptions for 84 yards in his first season but just 16 for 216 since, leaving the impression his unique talents never would be unlocked for the Scarlet and Gray.
Most recently, he found a new way to surprise.
In an era when most players are anxious to put their college years behind them as soon as possible, he took the NCAA’s offer of an extra year of eligibility.
At a time when transferring has become common — particularly for players who have been at one stop as long as McCall — he bucked that trend, too.
“That’s the easy way,” he said of transferring. “I just feel like me being me and coming from where I’ve come from, the transition from receiver to corner was the easy part for me. So it wasn’t a hard choice for me to make at all.
“I knew I wanted to stick around. It was more a question of how would I handle the situation. I like to compete, so I wanted to do something that would make me compete even more and do something new.”
Will it pay off with a finishing flourish?
Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs is not ruling it out despite McCall having joined a cornerbacks room containing a veterans Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks along with a handful of first- and second-year players raring to show what they can do.
“(Secondary coach) Matt Barnes had a great description of Demario yesterday,” Coombs recalled. “He told the DBs he’s a piece of clay. He’s a piece of clay. He just does everything the way we tell him to do it because he’s never done it before. Whereas other guys do things the way they want to do it because they’ve done it before. Not Demario. So he is doing things exactly the way we want because he doesn’t know any better, and you love that about Demario.”
He also loves the natural athletic ability that made him the No. 44 recruit in the nation many moons ago.
“He’s high energy, he’s quick-twitch,” Coombs said. “You know, I’m excited to watch him play, and he gets out there and he’s a rep eater. He shows up every day, he’s eating a bunch of reps, and he’s competing.
“There’s more than one occasion in the meeting room where Matt’s pointing out, ‘Hey, this is the best of these techniques that we’ve had so far,’ and it’s Demario. That’s fantastic.”
McCall said the position change was his idea, but he is willing to do whatever the team needs.
“I played defense my whole life before I got to Ohio State, so it wasn’t new, it was just remembering,” he said of cornerback. “I feel like I belong there for sure. It was more listening to the coaches, finding out what I need to about techniques and then let’s go play football.”