This is the first installment in a series where Buckeye Huddle looks back on each member of Ohio State’s 2023 signing class and the impact they had as rookies, as well as the impact they could have during the upcoming 2024 season. Up first is safety Malik Hartford.
Malik Hartford came to Ohio State from Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio where he was the Co-Division I Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior, he tallied 43 tackles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions, and five pass breakups.
Hartford was a four-star prospect and the No. 3 player in the state of Ohio per the 247Sports Composite. He was ranked the No. 11 safety in the 2023 recruiting class and he chose Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Tennessee, and many others.
Malik Hartford (6-2 194) was one of four Ohio State true freshmen to earn a start this past season for the Buckeyes, though his came earlier than all of the others. He actually started the second game of the season due to an injury to starting free safety Josh Proctor. It was the continuation of a rise that began many months earlier.
Hartford enrolled early and was the third freshman to have his black stripe removed, losing it the same day as tight end Jelani Thurman on April 7. Receiver Carnell Tate was the first freshman to have his stripe removed, losing it on March 26 after just five spring practices.
“Malik has come in and he’s just worked,” former OSU safeties coach Perry Eliano said back in the spring. “You see the talent that you saw when he was at Lakota West. He’s extremely smart, high football IQ. Very, very humble young man that has come in and he’s shown flashes of what he can be. He’s still learning the game of football as far as on the collegiate level. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve been pleased what I’ve seen.”
From the time of his arrival a year ago, Malik Hartford was touted as a mature player and fast learner. He parlayed that into a season where he played in 12 of OSU’s 13 games, earning starts against Youngstown State and Michigan State. He finished with 10 tackles on the season with two pass breakups.
Hartford had a career-high four tackles in the start against the Spartans.
So Now What For Malik Hartford?
Malik Hartford ended the 2023 season as the backup at free safety behind sixth-year senior Josh Proctor, which means he could enter spring as the Buckeyes’ top option at that position moving forward.
Hartford has been touted for his ability to always be around the football, which is a great trait for a free safety to have. He has the speed and athleticism to cover a lot of ground, and is perfectly comfortable with the physicality the position requires.
The last true freshman safety to start a game for the Buckeyes was Vonn Bell in 2013. Bell started every game during Ohio State’s national title run in 2014 as a sophomore and was a First-Team All-American in 2015 before leaving early for the NFL where he was a second-round pick by the New Orleans Saints.
Whether or not Hartford is able to follow that same path, the simple fact that he earned a pair of starts as a true freshman is already rarefied air and it certainly hints towards bigger and better things in 2024.