Ohio State’s Hartford happy to be ready when called upon this time

COLUMBUS — Malik Hartford did not waste his second chance at meaningful playing time this season.

The true freshman from Lakota West High School played most of the second half last week after Josh Proctor was injured, and he held his own for the most part.

He was credited with one tackle and one pass breakup, but the 6-foot-2, 194-pounder was also in the middle of at least two more pass plays that ended up going his way.

“I played all right,” he said with a knowing grin Wednesday night.

With Proctor expected to be available this week when the Buckeyes play host to Michigan State, Hartford is likely to go back to the bench for now.

He could only be one play away, though, as the injury status of Ohio State’s other starting deep safety, Lathan Ransom, remains uncertain after he suffered a lower leg injury two weeks ago.

Either way, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles confirmed he feels much better about his options behind the starters than he did a year ago.

“Yeah, I mean, you just see it out there on the field,” Knowles said.

“You see the production and you’re not holding your breath every play like something’s gonna go wrong. I mean, that’s real. So the depth speaks for itself.”

Hartford enrolled last winter and quickly impressed the coaching staff in winter workouts and spring practice.

He made a push for a starting role during the preseason but ultimately ended up second string.

He started in Week 2 when Proctor was unavailable, but Hartford struggled early in that game against Youngstown State and was benched.

“He’s just kept his kept his focus,” Knowles said. “He hasn’t let it get him down. He’s just been focused on getting better and learning the game, processing things at a high speed. So he’s just been practicing well and just stay on with it.”

Hartford was a four-star recruit last year and the No. 1-rated prospect in Ohio.

He had 43 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended for the Firebirds en route to being named the GMC Defensive Player of the Year, so Hartford entered college with high expectations.

Now he is just focused on getting better every day, so he is ready if called upon.

“I feel like I’m a pretty knowledgeable player, but I just do my job,” he said. “Coach Knowles puts players in a great position and when you do your job the right way, you make them plays.”

Although he said practice can be tougher than games because of the high quality of receivers Ohio State has up and down the roster, Hartford is still adjusting to the speed of actual college games.

“I would say the game speed is a lot different, like being in the game,” he said. “The players running at you, they’re a lot bigger, too. I’m a smaller guy so I have to get used to playing in my body frame and being physical. And the fans are loud and they’re crazy. I mean they’re the best fans in the land.”

Last week, he was not the only true freshman from Southwest Ohio playing with the first-team defense.

Jermaine Mathews Jr., a four-star prospect from Cincinnati Winton Woods, started at field cornerback with Denzel Burke nursing an injury.

“I love Jermaine,” Hartford said. “He brings the energy. I’m a little more calm. He’s a little more flashy, but that’s my brother from Cincy. He’s gonna be a great player.”


Michigan State at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., NBC, 1410

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