COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State’s upcoming season was supposed to be the first for Pickerington’s Sonny Styles. Instead, the No. 1 ranked player in Ohio for the class of 2022 decided to reclassify and graduate a year early to join the Buckeyes last fall.

His decision paid off. The 18-year-old Styles will start at the nickel safety position for Ohio State in the season opener Saturday at Indiana.

“We talk about who the coaches trust is the guy who’s going to be on the field,” Styles said. “That was the biggest thing for me last year. I think I earned the coaches’ trust.”

“The role that he played last year, stepping in after reclassifying and coming here last summer, couldn’t have been more impressed with what he did,” coach Ryan Day said. “He’s got a really, really bright future ahead of him. I think he can do a lot of things for us.”

One of those things he can do is provide versatility. As a nickel safety, he’ll be trusted to cover slot receivers and tight ends as well as set the edge in the run game. 

“I’m able to be in the slot, play coverage, be able to blitz off the edge, things like that, so I think it’s just a way for them to display my versatility,” Styles said. “It feels good to know they trust me and believe in me to move me around to different places.”

Traditionally, the nickel safety serves as a third cornerback with a priority placed on pass coverage. Styles’ 6-foot-4, 229-pound frame makes him closer to a linebacker than a defensive back, but defensive coordinator Jim Knowles trusts Styles in coverage because of his athleticism.

“I saw in Sonny that he has the ability to play high safety, to play in man coverage,” Knowles said. “He also has the length and toughness up close to the ball. Now you have more flexibility.”

That flexibility means Styles can also play when opposing teams are in 12 personnel. That’s when two tight ends are on the field at the same time, a regular occurrence in the Big Ten.

This won’t be the first time coaches have trusted Styles to play in a big game. Last season, he came in for 12 plays in Ohio State’s Peach Bowl game against Georgia.

“I think midway through last season,” safeties coach Perry Eliano said about when he trusted Styles to play. “I think the uniqueness of Sonny is just his football IQ, his ability to truly process and articulate, his ability to be coached and understand the pieces around him at such a young age.”

In high school, Styles helped Pickerington Central win the 2022 Division I basketball state championship and a regional championship in football in 2020.

Styles said the biggest difference going into his sophomore year is his level of confidence.

“Being able to anticipate and trust your eyes. I think that’s the biggest thing as a safety,” Styles said. “A lot of times guys come up short from plays for not trusting their eyes … just be able to trust what you see and go.”

Styles trusts what he sees on the field and it’s led the coaching staff to trust him to be an integral part of the defense.