They say better late than never, but sooner is better than both, especially when it’s a complete surprise. That’s where Ohio State junior safety Lathan Ransom finds himself this year as a pivotal member in this Buckeyes defense.
Ransom is currently fourth on the team in tackles (21), and he’d probably be third had he not missed the Wisconsin game a couple of weeks ago. Last Saturday against Michigan State, he tallied three tackles and a first-quarter interception on a ball that he tracked for 30 yards down the field, pulling it in near the Spartan goal line.
Ransom playing well isn’t anything new for the Buckeyes, but the fact that he is doing it so soon after fracturing his leg in the Rose Bowl is the real story.
“Yeah, I mean, everything that Lathan does on the field is a bonus in my mind, because we did not have him,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said this week. “From the time I arrived, I didn’t have him out there. And he just shows up. He’s the guy that jumps off the video. He’s the guy that during the game, as I’m watching it from my vantage point, shows up in all the right places, and he’s decisive. So credit to him and he loves to play football. And I think for a guy to come back from that significant injury is really a good story to tell.”
What Ransom has been able to do is pretty remarkable. Sure, a guy could come back quickly from a significant injury and play well. And sure, a guy can pick up a new defense quickly and excel at it. But Ransom is doing both. He missed the winter and spring when OSU’s defense was being installed, but you would never be able to tell it based on the way he has played this season.
Since he couldn’t be on the field while the defense was being taught, he spent time watching and learning.
“That was the hardest part for me. That was definitely the time I was at my lowest,” Ransom said back in August of missing spring practice while rehabbing. “I wanted to be out there with my brothers. I wanted to learn the new defense. First, I was really down. After I cleared my head and just understood the situation I was in, I really started focusing on learning the playbook and doing everything I could do because I obviously can’t be out there with my teammates. Then obviously seeing that taken away from me, once I got back on the field, I grew a bigger appreciation of it and I don’t want to leave the field now.”
Leaving the field here and there has actually been part of the plan as both Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor have been manning the strong safety (“Bandit”) position on defense together, but the impact being made is anything but part-time.
They have been interchangeable and both have been productive. The depth that the Buckeyes have at safety this year is a stark change from last year’s defense. And Ransom’s ability to handle multiple job responsibilities on the fly makes this defense even more dynamic.
“I feel like Lathan has some versatility in between the Adjuster and the Bandit position,” Knowles explained. “I think he seems to be a guy who can be both strong side, weak side, fit the run, pass, see the concepts maybe in a broader spectrum. Josh, I mean, I think he’s really good when he has a specific assignment and direction and is able to really just unleash and play fast. Lathan plays Bandit and he can do that from a physical standpoint. But I think [Ransom] also thinks and sees the game like an Adjuster, more like [starting safety] Ronnie [Hickman] does, so that gives more versatility.”
Everything that Knowles has seen from Ransom this year has been a bonus , but that’s not the case for head coach Ryan Day. Day has been telling people about Ransom since he was a true freshman in the COVID-ravaged season of 2020.
That was a tough time for everyone in the football program, especially the true freshmen who had no spring and no real training camp. Ransom held his own back then, but is holding much more than that today.
And nobody is happier about that fact than Day.
“I think you’re seeing what he’s capable of,” Day said. “He’s very intelligent, he’s very athletic, has really good football IQ. You can see how much ground he covered on that first play, on the touchdown, and still was able to hang on to the ball. He’s got really good ball skills. It’s so great to see him healthy. Great to see him running around. And now he’s got some games under his belt. So I think you’re seeing the best version of Lathan.”