COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State safety Sonny Styles‘ decision to reclassify and graduate a year early from Pickerington Central and join the Buckeyes last summer came as a surprise. But what happened next wasn’t a surprise to those who know the son of former Buckeye Lorenzo Styles.
“I actually got a chance to play. I came here expecting to just get better,” Sonny said. “I expected to get on special teams and go hard and do something for my team.”
He got on special teams and then some. Styles played the second-most special teams snaps of any Buckeye and took 67 snaps on defense, including a dozen in a College Football Playoff game against Georgia.
“Sonny didn’t have a spring ball last year. He came in the summer, and then all of a sudden here comes fall camp as a 17-year-old,” safeties coach Perry Eliano said. “Now, he’s 18-years-old with his first full spring, and he’s excelling. And the beauty of it is he’s coachable. He understands the game of football, and he’s hungry to continue to get better each and every day.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles agrees and has repeatedly said they need to find a way to get Styles on the field this season.
“[Sonny’s] a guy that our staff is gonna point out and say, ‘We need to find a way to get him in there,’” Knowles said. “He held his own in the playoff semifinal and I think he’s just got all kinds of skills.”
His skills, matched with his 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame, make it hard for coaches to ignore.
“He is definitely going to help this football team win games and execute a high level,” Eliano said.
Coach Ryan Day shares that sentiment.
“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,” Day said. “He’s got a really, really bright future ahead of him. I think he can do a lot of things for us. … He is a playmaker. He’s going to play a lot of football for us.”
The reason he’s in a position to “play a lot of football” as an 18-year-old is due in no small part to his decision to reclassify a year early.
“No, I never second-guessed [reclassifying]. I knew why I came here early. I came here early to get better,” Styles said. “It gave me some confidence, it gave me some maturity and I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”
Styles knows the aspirations the coaching staff and media have for him, but he isn’t paying much attention to it.
“I think the expectation for myself is just to be the best version of myself everyday,” Styles said. “Like Coach [Eliano] talks to me about: just have tunnel vision. You know don’t listen to too many people over here or over there. Just come out here and do your job.”
The rising sophomore has been taking reps with the second-team defense behind returning starter Lathan Ransom, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation’s best safety.
This spring, Knowles has Ransom and Styles playing the “bandit” safety position, a hard-hitting run-stopper who can also defend against the pass in open space.
“We’re going to get [Sonny] in but when you start out, you have to establish depth, you’ve got to establish competition,” Knowles said. “I think everybody needs to feel that competition, so having Sonny there right now establishes a nice competition with him and Lathan. We think they both can play and then it’s my job to find a way to get them both on the field.”
Knowles did not elaborate if that meant getting both players on the field at the same time or having Styles rotate with Ransom like they’re doing this spring.
“Coach [Eliano] talks about the best player’s going to play. You just got to make the most out of every rep. … I think I’m doing that,” Styles said.
Knowles said the way to get reps with the first-team defense is doing well against the second team and holding his own against the starters on Ohio State’s high-powered offense.
“If you can’t do your job out here [in practice] you can’t expect them to put you out there to do your job on the big stage,” Styles said. “I just want to show I’m reliable and whatever you ask me to do I can do it.”