This is the 12th 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 cornerback Jermaine Mathews, Jr.
Ranked the top player in the state of Ohio in the class of 2023, Jermaine Mathews, Jr. was the No. 5 cornerback in the nation and the No. 51 player overall. Before he was so highly-ranked, however, he earned his offer from Ohio State in a June camp prior to his senior season. When he received that offer, he was ranked the No. 505 player in the class. He signed with the Buckeyes over offers from Alabama, Michigan, LSU, Oklahoma, and many others.
Mathews attended Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati where he was an All-State selection and the Division II Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior, he finished with 51 tackles, four forced fumbles, six interceptions, and four fumble recoveries. He also had a touchdown catch, a punt return for a touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. As a junior, he intercepted five passes and also returned two punts for touchdowns.
Jermaine Mathews, Jr. enrolled early at Ohio State and hit the ground running, which wasn’t unexpected when talking to the Buckeye coaches a year ago on signing day.
“Jermaine is physical. Has a knack for the ball. Plays with a high level. Is a confident guy,” cornerbacks coach Tim Walton said at the time.
Mathews ended up playing in 11 games as a true freshman, including a start against Rutgers due to an injury to starter Denzel Burke. He finished the season with 13 tackles, three pass break-ups, and one interception, which he returned 58 yards for a touchdown against Western Kentucky.
This was the third year in a row that the Buckeyes have had a true freshman cornerback earn at least one start. While getting corners on the field as freshmen is a luxury in certain circumstances, it’s generally not something you want to be forced into. Some guys, however, can handle it. And last year, Mathews was one of those guys.
“Yeah, I mean, you don’t want to,” Walton said a year ago. “I think it’s all different from each situation. I mean, theoretically, you don’t want to put a true freshman out there and do things, but some guys are ready for it. And if you are ready for it, and you show that you have it in your competitive nature, you’re physically ready, the mental state of mind, you have the maturity level, because some guys mature faster than others. If all those things fit, you understand the game, you have knowledge of the game that’s a little more advanced, then you give that guy the opportunity. That’s the right way to do it.”
So Now What For Jermaine Mathews, Jr.?
The Buckeyes return both starting cornerbacks from last year, as Denzel Burke surprised the NFL by returning for his senior season and Davison Igbinosun was not yet eligible for the draft as a true sophomore. Nickel back Jordan Hancock is also back for his senior season, which means it is extremely unlikely for Jermaine Mathews, Jr. to change the status quo.
Even with all of the starters back this year, Mathews still found playing time on last year’s team, so he’ll find time on this year’s team as well. With the goal as a team being a 16-game season now, rotating more players during a game will be a legitimate plan of attack for college football coaches. There may also be more “load management” as starters sit out a game here or there when the outcomes aren’t entirely in doubt.
The confidence in Mathews is extremely high, however. If Denzel Burke was off to the NFL, there would be a ton of excitement from the OSU staff to see how Mathews responded. He would be the favorite to win the open job, which also makes him the favorite to again be the No. 3 cornerback on this team.
The Ohio State coaches are comfortable putting him on the field at any time, so don’t be surprised when they do just that. And definitely don’t be surprised when he makes plays when he’s out there.
Safety Malik Hartford
Receiver Brandon Inniss
Safety Jayden Bonsu
Offensive Tackle Luke Montgomery
Defensive End Joshua Mickens
Tight End Jelani Thurman
Defensive Tackle Will Smith, Jr.
Cornerback Calvin Simpson-Hunt
Quarterback Lincoln Kienholz
Linebacker Nigel Glover
Offensive Guard Austin Siereveld