Josh Proctor sat at an interview table Saturday afternoon surrounded by reporters and television cameras, completely in his element. No waver in his voice, no unknowns in his answers. Able to enjoy the moment.
The Ohio State sixth-year safety was happily answering questions about his interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Buckeyes’ eventual 37-17 win over Maryland.
The touchdown was Ohio State’s first of the day, and came at a very necessary time because the Buckeye offense wasn’t providing much of anything. Proctor’s play cut the Terrapins’ lead to 10-7, but also cut into the momentum that Maryland was enjoying.
“We knew they liked to go in their little bunch and bring the running back out, and he likes to throw the checkdown,” Proctor said of Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. “So my eyes were just in the backfield, reading and reacting, anticipating.”
Proctor stepped in front of the pass, cut to the right and took it in from 24 yards out. It was a play that came through film study, awareness, and anticipation.
It was also something that Proctor admitted he probably wouldn’t have been prepared for in years past.
“No, no I wouldn’t have,” he said. “But I think over the years I’ve learned. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve watched film constantly. Now it’s all about anticipating more than reacting.”
He is not wrong. Few players have seen as much as Proctor, and not just because this is his sixth year at Ohio State.
Proctor came to OSU as one of the top free safety prospects in the 2018 class. In fall camp of 2019, he was already making plays, earning comparisons to former Buckeye All-American free safety Malik Hooker.
But things never quite seemed to work out for Proctor. Injuries, immaturity, inconsistency all played their part over the previous five years, and all of it has fueled Proctor this year.
His coaches have lauded his maturity and his growth on and off the field, but now they are especially lauding his play and his leadership on the field.
Throughout Saturday’s game, Proctor could be seen firing up the crowd, imploring them to get loud on key downs. He is constantly talking to teammates, expressive enough to to be seen from the back rows of Ohio Stadium.
That part of him has always been there, but he hasn’t always been in a position to show it.
“No, that’s me. That’s me,” he said. “I like to have fun. You guys saw a lot of that today. I was just being myself.”
But sitting around a table afterwards, being bombarded with questions and having all of the answers, that’s a new edition.
“No, this is new. This is new,” he said. “I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve prayed. I’ve changed a lot these past years. It’s definitely new.”
Josh Proctor came back to Ohio State for his sixth year because there was still work to be done. There was still a story to write and a future to be had. But he had to be in the present to make such a decision.
It takes a certain level of maturity to realize more can be done. And more importantly, more should be done. Proctor is making the most of that realization, and the Buckeyes are now getting the very best version of “Proc.” He is a hard-hitting safety with range who has always had play-making ability, but the consistency wasn’t where it needed to be.
Now, however, Proctor is finding himself in the right places, and just at the right times. His pick six against Maryland is proof of that, but so was his “pick six” decision to come back to Ohio State for a sixth season.
Proctor could have looked back on his first five years as a Buckeye and decided to move on. Instead, he’s taken the lessons he’s learned in that time to guide him, rather than define him.
If you live in the past, the moments you have always wished for will pass you by.
This is the lesson that guides Josh Proctor today.
“Everything is coming to fruition,” he said with a smile. “I’ve prayed about these moments. I’ve dreamt about these moments. Sometimes I’ve had my ups and downs, but honestly I’m just living in the moment.
“And I’m here now.”