No Stone Unturned
Meyer’s Talk Reignites Senior Playmaker
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are cleats on the bottom of your shoe, put them in the ground and go as hard as you can.
That was the message Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer gave senior Jake Stoneburner a few weeks back when he realized he wasn’t getting much from one of his top playmakers this season.
Meyer has built his program around honesty and direct conversation, so Stoneburner wasn’t surprised when the new head coached stopped him in the hallway and pulled the senior tight end/wide receiver into his office for a “come-to-you-know-what” moment, as Meyer described it.
“He always says if he’s not coaching you, they don’t care,” Stoneburner acknowledged.
“For him to sit down and tell me how he felt about me and that he wants me to be playing, it really showed he cares and it made me want to better myself.”
Stoneburner had made the switch from tight end to wide receiver during the offseason, but he missed a good chunk of the summer and was struggling with his new role, which was partially like his old one, but partially something in between a wide receiver and a tight end.
“I had to get used to the game atmosphere of playing wide receiver and figuring that out – and I still am,” said Stoneburner, a fifth-year senior who has just three games left at Ohio State.
“We're nine games in and I'm still learning. I think I was being tentative (earlier in the year), and now I’m being a little bit more aggressive and little more assertive with blocking and getting the ball, I think that's just what coach Meyer wanted me to do.”
Stoneburner caught his first touchdown pass of the season against UCF back in week two and added a pair of scores the following week against Cal, but the 6-5, 245-pound senior from Dublin disappeared over the next three games. He failed to catch a single pass against UAB, Michigan State or Nebraska, which prompted Ohio State’s head coach to come calling.
“I didn’t play great, I wasn’t really myself the first few games, even up to the Michigan State game,” Stoneburner said.
“Coach Meyer and I had a real serious talk and ever since then I’ve been playing a lot better, making plays and blocking better. Coach Meyer opened my eyes to some things I needed to do better and that’s why you’ve been seeing me out there more.”
Meyer specifically mentioned the Michigan State game as the moment he realize Stoneburner was not playing at the level this staff expected him to when they took over the program.
“There is nothing worse than false confidence. Maybe people telling you you're better than you are,” Meyer said.
“And deep down, Jake Stoneburner is a very, very smart guy. He watches a lot of film and sees himself. However there are sometimes when I first got here, (people thought) Jake Stoneburner was the greatest thing in the world and he wasn't. Great kid, great kid, but he's playing very well right now.”
The Buckeyes moved him to receiver in order to open more playing time for Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, but as a result, Stoneburner was having trouble getting open with what Meyer called “lazy routes.” He was matched up with more safeties and corners than linebackers, like he was in the past. While that certainly gave him more of a size advantage, it takes more than that to be an excellent football player at this level.
“For some reason he hadn't been (playing well), so you can blame it's all the coach's faults, or Coach (Jim) Tressel or everybody's fault, but at some point, you've got to play better,” Meyer said with a directness the players have to come to expect, and in most cases, enjoy.
“That's exactly what was said. The cool thing is he said, ‘I agree a hundred percent, Coach, and you got it.’ He's been great.”
“I wasn’t playing bad, he just thought I wasn’t living up to the all-around player I could be or should be,” Stoneburner said.
“I wasn’t being lazy or soft, but I was getting confused out there and playing a little tentative. He said, ‘who cares if you screw up, just go out there and play hard.’ Since then I’ve been playing balls to wall as hard as I can.”
Stoneburner caught four passes in Ohio State’s 52-49 win at Indiana and had a huge 17-yard grab in overtime during the Buckeyes’ comeback win against Purdue the following week.
It was his 72-yard catch against Penn State, however, that really brought everything Meyer had told him in to focus.
“He needed that,” quarterback Braxton Miller said.
“He really hasn't got many touches all throughout the season. I absolutely prayed to God that that ball got into his hands and he scored, so that's a good play.”
Urban Meyer hugs Jake Stoneburner after his big reception against Penn State
Photo by Jim Davidson
It actually was a good play. Borderline great. The Buckeyes drew it up on the sideline knowing at some point the Nittany Lions would have so many defenders in the box to stop the run, they would leave themselves exposed on the back end.
“It was just a simple slant, but they were in a no-deep coverage with no high safety and man-
to-man,” Stoneburner said.
“Once I beat my guy I had to get vertical and Braxton threw a beautiful ball and I was able to outrun the defense after that.”
Not many people would have expected Stoneburner to turn on the jets and go all 72 yards to the end zone, but it was a huge play for the senior and for the Buckeyes, who needed one last swing of the hammer to finish off the Nits in Happy Valley.
“It was surreal to score that touchdown at that point in the game and that type of touchdown,” Stoneburner added.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better. To see my coaches faces when I came off the sideline, making fun of me that they didn’t think I could run like that, it was just a great feeling.”
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