It’s not every day that you see a linebacker returning kickoffs, but Chip Trayanum is not your everyday linebacker.
For the first time in his brief OSU career, junior linebacker Chip Trayanum lined up against Arkansas State last week as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 kickoff returner.
Even though Trayanum has a history carrying the ball as a running back at Arizona State over the previous two years, he has never returned a kickoff in a college game.
After one week as the Buckeyes’ top returner, however, he is still waiting for his first attempt. Unfortunately for him, every kickoff from the Red Wolves last weekend ended up in the back of the end zone.
That should change this weekend as Toledo’s kickers have just five touchbacks on their 18 kickoffs.
Trayanum didn’t start out as the top kick returner for the Buckeyes. That job belonged to sophomore receiver Emeka Egbuka for the season opener against Notre Dame. But with Egbuka’s increased workload as the team’s new punt returner and the absence of star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it was prudent to put somebody else back there.
But don’t think Trayanum isn’t still a threat to go the distance like Egbuka was.
“Chip Trayanum might even be better than me,” Egbuka said this week. “He hasn’t gotten the chance to return any yet, but you guys are going to see Saturday. He’s a very special talent. One of the most, if not the most athletic guy on the team. I’m excited to see him return some stuff.”
While at Arizona State, Trayanum rushed for 691 yards in his two years as a Sun Devil, so having the ball in his hands is nothing new for him. But watching him return kickoffs in practice is still eye-opening.
“Seeing him return it in practice, it’s like you don’t really realize how fast he is until he hits that crease,” Egbuka explained. “And once he hits that crease, no one on the scout kickoff team has been able to catch him. So, like I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he took it back.”
It was a surprise to spectators during the Arkansas State game to see No. 19 back to return kicks, but Trayanum has been impressing teammates and coaches alike in practice.
“I mean, he’s one of the fastest guys on the team, being 230 pounds,” Egbuka said. “He can do backflips like it’s nothing, and he’s one of the strongest guys in the weight room. If it’s me personally on the kickoff team, I would not want to tackle him.”
He may be playing linebacker at Ohio State, but he’s not your typical linebacker. He’s also not your typical kickoff returner, which is actually one of the draws of having him back there.
“Well, first off, he has running back experience. So, he’s carried the ball in college games,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “When you look at his numbers on the GPS, he’s really fast, and we look for that. And then also he’s got some strength to him. And I think when you’re looking for somebody to return in the kickoff game, you got to have somebody that’s got some strength to them. Because that can be a situation where you gotta be strong.
“You’ve got to be built sort of like a running back or a bigger wide receiver, in my opinion, to do it all the time. Now you can try to hit a home run once in a while with maybe a slighter guy, but you’re running the risk of them getting whacked. So, we think that he really has an opportunity to be a good returner for us. Now, we didn’t get a chance to see that last week, but we’re hoping to this week.”