In head coach Ryan Day’s offense, an Ohio State quarterback is going to put up big numbers. Since Day arrived in 2017, the Buckeyes have had the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year every single year.
The average season for a Ryan Day quarterback would have been a record-setting season 10 years ago.
But long before any quarterback is given the opportunity to start at Ohio State, they must earn it. And it’s not just about the strongest arm or most accurate passer. There is a leadership quality that must be met as well.
That’s why in addition to watching his players throw the ball in practice, OSU quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis is also watching how his guys interact with each other and their teammates.
“Yeah, that’s a big thing, right? Because a quarterback needs to be a leader,” Dennis said this week. “And you can’t lead if you’re standing over in a corner. So what relationships do you have with your team? And what kind of interactions do you have with your team? So you definitely want to see that.”
In many cases, relationships are formed and leadership begins long before a quarterback even gets to Ohio State. Kyle McCord, for instance, was a leader in his recruiting class. He had that benefit because he committed to the Buckeyes about 19 months before he signed.
McCord, a junior, is currently competing with redshirt freshman Devin Brown to be the next starting quarterback at Ohio State. Brown was a late addition to his 2022 class, committing the same month he signed.
But — thanks to strength coach Mickey Marotti — it doesn’t take long after quarterbacks arrive on campus before they have an opportunity to begin their respective paths toward leadership.
“I think it’s really cool how Coach Mick does it,” Dennis explained. “When guys even come in, they start lifting as a freshman. So how can you find your niche? Are you close with your freshmen, are you close with your class? Are you close with your roommates? So those kinds of things, they happen kind of naturally. They kind of happen right when you step foot on campus.”
Dennis has actually been at Ohio State longer than Day. He was an offensive intern in 2015 and he saw JT Barrett and Cardale Jones compete for the starting job that year. He was also on hand for the battles between Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins.
While watching and analyzing every detail in order to find a starter, coaches do also encourage players to lead. But leadership can’t be forced. The interesting thing about a quarterback battle, however, is how the competition actually brings the competitors closer together.
“I think it kind of happens naturally,” Dennis said of leadership emerging. “You obviously try to encourage it. I think we say this all the time: the only person who knows what it’s like to be the quarterback at Ohio State is a quarterback at Ohio State. Right? So those guys, I mean, they’re close, right?
“Cardale and JT were in a crazy quarterback battle but they’re still best friends to this day. So I think that those guys lean on each other, and the older guys know what it’s like to be a young kid coming in, and so the young guys want to get the knowledge from the older guy, so those guys tend to have a good bond and it is, it’s a unique fraternity. We try to make it that way.”
One way or another, the Buckeyes will likely be choosing their starting quarterback this year from one of Kyle McCord or Devin Brown. The guy who moves the ball the best and who leads the best will win the job, but even the best leader will still have a quarterback teammate to lean on.
“They’re great. Yeah, no, they’re great,” Dennis said of his quarterbacks’ interactions with their teammates. “And just like I said, the only person that knows what it’s like to be the quarterback is the quarterback, and so those guys definitely lean on each other, and they bounce things off of one another.”