Jaylen McClain Ohio State Buckeyes Safety

Closer Look: Safety Jaylen McClain A Tenacious Defender

As a senior last year at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, Ohio State freshman safety Jaylen McClain totaled 126 tackles and earned First-Team All-State honors. He also blocked a punt and a field goal and recovered three fumbles. As a junior he posted 83 tackles.

McClain was a four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. He was ranked the No. 36 safety in the 2024 recruiting class and the No. 372 player overall. He chose Ohio State over offers from Michigan, Miami, LSU, Georgia, Oregon, USC, and many others.

What To Like

It’s not often warranted to put together a highlight video of a defender tackling an opposing player after a bunch of 50-yard gains, but sometimes exceptions need to be made. In the instance below, it showcases the relentless nature of Jaylen McClain.

He simply does not give up on a play, which then ends up in some touchdown-saving tackles. That’s the kind of determination and tenacity that you can win with. It’s also the kind of thing that rubs off on teammates. Coaches shouldn’t have to teach effort, and in McClain’s case, he speaks it fluently.

The Potential

Jaylen McClain (6-0 192) can play any of the three safety spots in the Ohio State defense, but he opened this spring playing free safety, which he also did quite a bit in high school. This puts him on the wide side of the field and can require him to cover a bunch of ground against both the pass and run. As a free safety, the first question often surrounds that ability to cover ground and play centerfield. He held up quite well in high school and has done nothing but please his coaches so far at Ohio State.

Of course, no matter where he lines up on the field, stopping the run is always going to be a priority. And don’t worry — McClain doesn’t just chase people down from behind.

The Expectations

Jaylen McClain spent the spring as the No. 2 free safety behind sophomore All-American Caleb Downs. Safeties coach Matt Guerrieri talked in the spring about how McClain had one of the highest grades on the team regarding pursuit and getting to the ball. The relentless nature he showed in high school was evident all throughout the spring. That isn’t likely to stop any time soon, which means that McClain will continue to make his coaches happy.

McClain’s role this year is still up in the air. Malik Hartford was the backup free safety last year as a true freshman, but he missed the spring. Is he still the backup at free safety? Did McClain play well enough this spring to move Hartford to strong safety? Is that competition going to take place in the fall?

These are questions that were not expected before spring ball began, but the spring game showed what the coaches had seen all camp long.

The Bottom Line

The very first time Jaylen McClain was on the field in a 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 situation this spring, he was directing traffic. He was moving a teammate around and telling him where he needed to be. It was a simple thing, but it was still a true freshman doing it in his first spring practice and there was no question in his voice when telling his teammate where to go. It was his first day on the job but it never looked like it.

Spring went very well for McClain, who made the most of his opportunity to run with the twos. It is still very early and there are talented players ahead of him, but this is the kind of first five months that future stars have. It’s not a guarantee, but it is a neon sign of possibilities.

Previous Closer Look Editions

Quarterback Will Howard | Running Back Quinshon Judkins | Tight End Will Kacmarek | Center Seth McLaughlin | Defensive Tackle Eric Mensah | Linebacker Payton Pierce | Safety Leroy Roker | Safety Caleb Downs | Safety Keenan Nelson, Jr.

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