Upon news of Nick Saban’s retirement from Alabama, notifications were sent to cell phones everywhere.
Caleb Downs was among those who learned the news of Saban’s retirement in a meeting, and in turn, he entered the transfer portal after a season in which he earned Freshman All-America status his first year of college football.
Downs said he received more than 100 phone calls in the time after his decision to transfer. He compared his recruitment in the portal to his time in high school.
“Recruiting on steroids, I’d say,” Downs said. “I got like 102 calls in one day, well, not in one day. Probably in seven or eight hours. But just being able to minimize what my mind was going through, that was a big thing for me, and being able to make a sound decision off of what I knew.”
Ohio State was one of more than two dozen Power Five programs to extend a scholarship offer to Downs when the Hoschton, Georgia, native was playing at Mill Creek High School part of the class of 2023.
Much of the reason why Downs chose Alabama over programs like the Buckeyes, Georgia and Penn State among others was because of Saban and the prestige and stability of the team. Downs said “my heart dropped” when he learned Saban was retiring.
Downs said transferring “was the best decision for me” and that there was some “back and forth” in his decision making, but “everybody’s got to do what they need to do for themselves.” He said it’s been “a smooth transition” to Ohio State since transferring from Alabama, and he took notes on the Buckeyes last season.
“They played great defense last year,” Downs said. “Watching the film and seeing how they progress and seeing how their defense played last year definitely helped me make a more sound decision and having more facts about what I’ll be getting into.”
Totaling 107 tackles, Downs became the first true freshman to lead the Crimson Tide in tackles since at least 1970.
Downs recorded three pass break-ups and two interceptions while starting all 14 games at Alabama. There, Saban and assistants Kevin Steele and Travaris Robinson coached him.
Now, Downs will get a chance to be coached by someone who grew up with his NFL father Gary Downs. Caleb Downs said he looks forward to being led by “a very genuine person” in Ohio State cornerbacks and secondary coach Tim Walton.
“He always keeps it straight with you,” Caleb Downs said. “Everything that he says he has come to fruition, so I can’t knock him on anything. He’s very close with my pops too. They grew up together so just knowing that relationship with him and our relationship together, I trusted him.”
Caleb Downs said the Buckeyes coaching staff has preliminarily told him he’d be a fit as the “adjuster” more so than the “bandit” in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ secondary, but he doesn’t have a preference. Caleb Downs said “I just want to play where I can get on the field.”
Caleb Downs said safeties Lathan Ransom and Sonny Styles have welcomed him to the team. He said he has good relationships with Malik Hartford and Jordan Hancock and that “they’re good people,” noting the culture of Ohio State drew him toward the program.
Ryan Day has had a large role in shaping that culture that Caleb Downs took notice of. As head coach, Day can help set the tone, and Caleb Downs said the Buckeyes skipper “was the same person” as he was during his high school recruitment.
“He was very genuine when I was getting recruited in high school, and he was very genuine when I talked to him two weeks ago,” Caleb Downs said. “He believes in the people that he’s around and he believes in the people that he believes in so just knowing that and knowing what he stands for, it means a lot.”
Ohio State’s defense will mostly remain intact going from last season into 2024. It will return starters Ransom, Hancock and cornerback Denzel Burke among others.
And with the addition of Caleb Downs, who says the expectation is “to be one of the best,” the Buckeyes will only present more of a challenge to opposing teams.
“At the end of the day, I love playing football and that’s what I’m here to do,” Caleb Downs said. “I’m not here to make money or do anything like that. I know there’s a lot of opportunities here in terms of the city of Columbus, but at the end of the day I’m here to help this team win football games and I’m here to do my best and try to develop.”