This is the sixth 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 next is tight end Jelani Thurman.
Jelani Thurman came to Ohio State from Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn, Georgia where as a senior he caught 39 passes for 624 yards and 13 touchdowns in a 15-0 season that saw his team win a state title. He finished with over 1,000 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in his final two seasons of high school.
Thurman was ranked the No. 3 tight end in the 2023 recruiting class per the 247Sports Composite. As the nation’s No. 104 player, he signed with Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, USC, and a dozen others. He was high school teammates with current OSU incoming freshman quarterback Air Noland.
Jelani Thurman (6-6 258) got to the Ohio State campus as quickly as he could, enrolling early and getting to work about 54 weeks ago. An already imposing figure, Thurman stands out with both his stature and his athleticism. It didn’t take long for OSU tight ends coach Keenan Bailey to see the potential — but not the kind you might expect.
“Yeah, he’s been doing really well,” Bailey said last spring. “And I think it’s easy for freshmen to come in and kind of be complacent, especially early enrollees. Like, ‘Oh, I made it because I’m getting reps,’ or whatnot. But Jelani, the best thing he’s done is his off-the-field habits. I mean, Jelani and [freshman receiver] Carnell Tate are two of the first guys in here every day. Every day. And I go into my office at the end of the night and Jelani’s in there with our GA Sean Binckes, who’s one heck of a coach, and they’re going over tomorrow’s script or they’re watching film learning new things. So yes, he’s a big, physical, athletic dude, and he loves football. But, damn, the best thing Jelani has been doing is off the field habits.”
Thurman pulled off the rare feat of both redshirting and starting a game. He only played in four regular season games, catching two passes for 18 yards. He did, however, get the start in the Cotton Bowl in a two-tight end package because starting tight end Cade Stover was banged up. Because postseason games no longer count against a player’s eligibility, Thurman enters the 2024 season as a redshirt freshman.
So Now What For Jelani Thurman?
With 2023 starting tight end Cade Stover off to the NFL and upperclassmen Joe Royer and Sam Hart off to the portal, playing time will be much more available this season for Jelani Thurman. The Buckeyes do return Gee Scott, Jr., who is headed into his fifth year. He is by far the most experienced returning tight end. Scott caught 10 passes for 70 yards this past season.
Ohio State also added Ohio tight end Will Kacmarek from the transfer portal. Kacmarek has started for two years for the Bobcats and still has two years of eligibility remaining. Third-year player Bennett Christian also returns after missing the 2023 season.
Head coach Ryan Day and new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien both like utilizing two tight ends in the offense, which means Buckeye fans will be seeing more of Jelani Thurman than ever before. How much they see, however, will be up to him. He has all of the ability a coach could ever want, but it is very difficult to hurry the development of the tight end position.
The good news is that Thurman is the kind of guy who is going to do everything he can to develop as quickly as possible.
“I see somebody that when the competition increases, he gets to the front of the line,” Day said back in November. “Whenever we have competitions in practice, he seems to find a way to the front of the line to get in there and compete. And that’s a great sign for a young player. He’s extremely competitive, and he’s learning and he’s getting those reps and I wish you could just do it overnight. You can’t at tight end. It just takes a lot of time. You’ve got to build up calluses. You’ve got to build up reps. He’s doing that. I think you can see the talent. And if he continues on that path, he’s gonna have a great career.”