‘I strive for greatness:’ Ohio State football’s Sonny Styles raising expectations

Published Aug. 08, 2023, 2:09 p.m.
By Nathan Baird, cleveland.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After months of speculation as to what position Ohio State football would assign Sonny Styles, safeties coach Perry Eliano came up with a new title Tuesday.
“He’s kind of a unicorn, so to speak,” Eliano said.
Speaking after the Buckeyes’ fifth practice, Eliano remained in that purgatory of acknowledging Styles’ momentum and resisting assumptions that he has locked up a starting spot. In the only practice session visible to reporters thus far, last Thursday, Styles played considerable snaps as the nickel in a safety alignment with returning starter Lathan Ransom and Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter.
Eliano saw what everyone else saw a year ago — a major prospect in a grown man’s body who was still only 17 years old. Styles made the decision to reclassify and enroll early with this preseason camp in mind. The advances he made this spring and offseason were set in motion by that decision.
Now he can begin to grow comfortable in a spot of his own. It happens to be one that fits his favorite aspect of the game: “Making plays at multiple spots.”
“I’m able to be in the slot, play coverage, be able to blitz off the edge — things like that,” Styles said. “It’s just a way for them to display my versatility. It feels good to know that they trust me or believe in me, to move me around different places.”
Eliano talked in the spring about “streamlining” Styles’ development. At the time, he played with the No. 2 defense behind Ransom at bandit. With the returning Thorpe Award semifinalist seemingly unlikely to budge from the first team, the question remained where Styles would line up this fall.
The second-year safeties coach said Tuesday that streamlining concept has not changed.
“We know exactly what we want to do with him,” Eliano said. “We’ve created a great plan for him, we’ve thought it through. And we’re excited about what it’s going to look like.”
The spring also showed Styles how much growth he still required. He cited a play in the spring game in which his responsibility was to drop underneath in coverage. He hesitated when a pass went in the air, so he ended up with only a pass breakup instead of a potential pick-six.
While a fan base anticipates Styles’ arrival, he keeps working on his own anticipation. It’s the kind that requires him to trust his eyes and reacting.
“I think I’m good, but I just need to get better,” Styles said. “I strive for greatness. I think that’s what we all do around here. That’s why we say B.I.A.”
That’s the secondary’s acronym for Best In America. It’s a standard the defense has chased the past few years while it searches for consistent playmakers in the back end.
Styles came to Ohio State ahead of schedule, but the impact he has begun making in practice qualifies more as being right on schedule.
“I think the uniqueness of Sonny is just his football IQ,” Eliano said. ”His ability to truly process and articulate, his ability to be coached and understand the pieces around him at such a young age. I think that’s where the uniqueness is, because you don’t get that all the time.”
In other words, that’s the difference between a Buckeye and a unicorn.

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