Caleb Downs

‘A workhorse’: Caleb Downs Impresses New Buckeyes Teammates

Jordan Hancock has long known how great Caleb Downs can be on the football field. 

Hancock grew up in Suwanee, Georgia, just over 20 miles away from Downs’ stomping grounds of Hoschton. Downs’ older brother Josh Downs — who played wide receiver at North Carolina from 2020-22 — was close with Hancock, and the two have known one another since they were young. 

“We’re really close,” Hancock said. “His brother went to my school. Me and his brother are probably like best friends. And I’ve known Caleb since he was like 6. We grew up in the same park. We played football in the same park. So real close family friends. We’re family friends for sure.” 

Downs has made an instant impact in his short Ohio State career. After announcing his decision to transfer in January following one season at Alabama and upon Nick Saban’s retirement, Downs has turned heads through two practices of the Buckeyes’ spring drills which began Tuesday. 

Hancock said Downs is “a huge difference maker.” Downs became the first true freshman to lead Alabama with 107 tackles since at least 1970. 

“He’s always had those lights on him since he was a little kid so this is nothing new to him right now,” Hancock said. “So in fall camp he’s just going to show everyone that he’s really like that and make a name for himself again, if people just didn’t remember.” 

Downs has made clear that transferring to Ohio State was the best decision for him. It was also a decision that showed confidence in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. 

Knowles and Ohio State recruited Downs the first time around out of high school. The Crimson Tide ultimately captured Downs’ favor, but upon coaching changes at Alabama, the likes of Knowles and cornerbacks coach Tim Walton drew him nearer to Columbus. 

After two practices this spring, Knowles already has a strong impression of someone who could start immediately in 2024. 

“It’s great. Caleb has got great football intelligence, picks things up quickly, plays like a veteran,” Knowles said. “The thing you notice about a player like Caleb is, yeah, he still makes mistakes, but he corrects them immediately. That’s what you’re always looking for out of players. Yeah, you’re going to make mistakes, but can you correct it by the next play. And that’s what I’ve seen so far.”  

Downs commanded the starting field safety spot within Alabama’s defense. He could line up there again with the Buckeyes, where he’ll be in a secondary that is already lauding his work ethic. 

Safety Lathan Ransom will enter his fifth year at Ohio State next season and he’s started 20+ games for the team. Ransom described himself as “super duper excited” when he found out Downs was becoming a Buckeye. 

“I love Caleb being here,” Ransom said. “We’re in the film (room) watching film together. We’re competing in the weight room. We’re competing on the field. Just to have someone like that to just push you every day. It’s just going to make both of us better.” 

The process during which the Buckeyes found out Downs would play with them in 2024 was an interesting one. For defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, he said he was cooking when the defensive line groupchat sounded off and “just texted ‘Boom.’” 

Tuimoloau is looking forward to playing off the energy Downs will bring to the Buckeye defense. 

“Once I found that he was coming, just very blessed and very glad to have him part of the brotherhood,” Tuimoloau said. “He’s a workhorse. He just keeps his head down, has blinders on and is just always a player of the game and just learning. He never continues to just stay in one spot or stay stagnant. He always keeps growing.” 

The Buckeyes are plenty excited about Downs putting on the scarlet and gray. Head coach Ryan Day said in February that “it’s going to be good” when he steps on the field to compete. 

Now, with Downs in the fold, Ohio State will bolster its defense that finished No. 2 in scoring defense a year ago. The Buckeyes already know what to expect from Downs after his Freshman All-American season in 2023.

“His film speaks for himself. He already knows the whole defense,” cornerback Denzel Burke said. “He’s already out there with the ones with us, so like, he’s that guy, and he’s going to do a lot of big things for us.” 

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