Sixth-year safety Josh Proctor returns for one last go-round with the Buckeyes, and he is expecting it to be his best.
Proctor opened last season as the starting strong safety (Bandit) in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense, but he didn’t keep the job. Proctor missed a tackle early on in the opener against Notre Dame and was essentially benched for the rest of that game.
Despite the benching, Proctor actually started four of the Buckeyes’ first five games before finally giving way to Lathan Ransom. Proctor missed two games last year, and only saw about 60 snaps on defense over the course of Ohio State’s final eight games.
It was a tough pill to swallow for a fifth-year senior who was expecting big things for himself. Despite the disappointment, his dedication to the team never wavered.
“I thought he handled it well,” said OSU safeties coach Perry Eliano. “He was never a distraction. We talked about being selfless. We talked about team, and he was the epitome of that, even though he had a lot riding on one specific season. I think he learned a lot. And it showed him his character. And he showed his teammates and his brothers his character as well.”
Proctor has started at least one game in each of the past three seasons. He has been an opening-day starter at safety each of the past two years, and finished the 2020 season with three consecutive postseason starts. He has seen a lot in his time at Ohio State, and now for the first time in his career, he’s seeing the same Buckeye defense two years in a row.
“This is my first time. First time in seven years, honestly. Had a new coach, new system every year since I’ve been here,” Proctor said this spring.
“It feels good. It feels good. I’m learning my new spot, and as far as that goes, I mean not really much has changed. But it’s definitely easier to pick up on things and remember things from last year that I probably didn’t notice.”
Proctor went into last season expecting it to be his final year with the Buckeyes. Having missed all but two games of the 2021 season, and also having a free COVID year, he opted to return for a sixth year. That sixth year could have been somewhere else. Somewhere that would provide him with a new start. But seemingly all Josh Proctor has known has been new starts. He wanted something else.
“I guess the deciding factor for me was just having a chance to help these younger guys out and really take on that leader role, and not just talk about it, but be about it. Stand on my business,” he said. “So I feel like that was really where I decided that yeah, this is the place for me. And I know the coaches got my back. So this is the best process for me to go through.”
“I would hope so,” Eliano said. “With Josh just being able to learn the system and really get into a groove of, okay, this is what you’re asked to do. And you just got to put good days on top of good days. And to this point, he’s done that. And that’s for everybody. Nobody’s guaranteed a role as far as a starter. That’s the beauty of competition, and that’s what we pride ourselves on as a program here. We compete in everything we do.”
Proctor spent the spring as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 free safety, which is a move back to a position where former teammates saw plenty of promise. Proctor is hoping to show off that promise this season.
“I honestly, I thought I was gonna be at the Bandit,” he said. “I didn’t care, I just wanted to be on the field, honestly. Didn’t matter where. So when they threw it at me, I kind of got excited. I was excited, definitely, because I love free safety.”
What Josh Proctor has been through to this point — with a season-ending injury early in 2021, being benched in 2022, the unforgiving weight of expectations, and everything else that comes with it, Eliano sees it all as an opportunity for growth.
“I just think it’s a character-building moment,” Eliano said. “You come to Ohio State to be the best, to play with the best, and to play against the best. And so each and every day — coaches included — you gotta bring it. And that’s the beauty of being at a place like this.”
Proctor has felt himself mature over the years. He has seen himself change in the way he thinks and handles himself. It’s a good feeling, which is why when he had the opportunity to leave, he looked back on the growing he had done and determined he was right where he needed to be.
“I’m not gonna lie and say that I didn’t feel that, but at the same time, this is always the place I wanted to be,” he said. “So I signed that letter of intent to come here, I love to compete, I love this atmosphere, I love Ohio State. So I just felt like this was literally the best decision for me and it helped me grow in a lot of different ways.”