The Ohio State football team will consist of over 100 players this season, but only 11 can play at a time. Being one of those 11 is the goal of almost all of those players, including sophomore safety Sonny Styles.
Already a unique prospect as a 6-foot-4 and 215-pound safety, Styles blazed an unusual path to Ohio State by skipping his senior year of school and enrolling in college a year early.
It’s not something that is recommended for most, but the son of former Buckeye linebacker Lorenzo Styles isn’t like most. Styles the younger not only enrolled early, but was part of the Ohio State defensive game plan in the semi-finals.
Heading into that game against No. 1 Georgia and their two NFL tight ends, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles deployed Styles as a quasi-outside linebacker tasked with helping to defend the Bulldogs’ bullish attack.
And he more than held his own.
Sonny Sized Up
For all of these reasons, the questions have been asked of Knowles and head coach Ryan Day what kind of plans there are for Sonny Styles this season.
“I mean, you saw what he could do in his first year,” Day said last week. “So yeah, I mean we’re always trying to find the first 11 guys. And then we kind of build it from there. The role that he played last year, stepping in, after reclassifying and coming here last summer, couldn’t have been more impressed with what he did. And he’s got a really, really bright future ahead of him. I think he could do a lot of things for us. So as we start to get into the spring, we’re gonna dive into some of the things that he can do for us, but he is a playmaker. He’s gonna play a lot of football.”
Styles brings a much different frame and skill set to the safety position than is typical, which also provides some opportunities for Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano to put him in different positions to succeed.
The experimenting will truly get underway when the Buckeyes return from spring break next week and get back to practice. It’s a process that Knowles isn’t taking lightly.
“Yeah, I think when you look at the potential best 11 players for the 2023 defense, he’s a guy that our staff is gonna point out and say, ‘We need to find a way to get him in there,’” Knowles said. “He held his own in the semifinal, and I think he’s just got all kinds of skills. So yeah, we’ve got to experiment with him in different places. See what’s best for Sonny and our defense. But he’s definitely on our mind. And he will be all spring in terms of getting him into a position that’s effective for the defense.”
Time To Prove It
Styles will need to show that he belongs. He can’t fall under the jack of all trades, master of none label that can doom versatile players.
Styles himself is confident that he can handle the job, and you won’t find any doubters among his coaches either.
“You earn everything you get here,” Eliano said. “Nobody’s given anything. You earn what you get here. So there’s no handouts. And the thing I appreciate most about Sonny is he came in and worked. There was no entitlement. Yeah, he’s the No. 1 player and all that, but you would have never thought that the minute he stepped foot in the door. So he earned the right to be on that stage and play the role that he played. I tell guys it’s not about their age. It’s about your mindset. He has a great mindset. He’s very coachable, and he wants to be the very best he can be. So what you saw that night was something that he earned. And that will continue to be the case moving forward for all the guys in the room.”
Sonny Styles can be used in a variety of ways in Knowles’ defense, not just because of his size and athleticism, but because he can handle it mentally as well. The more a coach asks of a player, the more capable that player needs to be of handling the added duties.
Doing what Styles did last year as a true freshman who should have still been in high school speaks much louder than his nine tackles. Now getting to experience his first spring camp as a Buckeye, the real fun can begin.
“The thing for Sonny is he’s smart,” said Eliano. “His football IQ is extremely high to be that young. And that’s a credit to his coach, that’s a credit to his dad, that’s a credit to his upbringing, and that’s a credit to his great focus and discipline. And so the exciting thing is, we haven’t really even scratched the surface of what he can be and I can see him being. And so that’s what’s exciting.
“That’s what’s exciting about the offseason right now. That’s what’s exciting about getting 15 practices of spring ball. That’s what’s exciting about going into summer because this is his first spring ball. He didn’t have spring ball last year. So there’s a huge ceiling. But the biggest thing I love about him is he’s focused, he’s humble and he’s locked into taking it one day at a time.”