Isaiah Pryor stood in the locker room after Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl win over USC last season and knew that the future was now his.
With the graduation of safety Damon Webb, Pryor was now the next in line. He had backed up Webb all season long as a true freshman at free safety, and now he was ready to take the torch.
As it would turn out, Webb’s torch has apparently been passed to Jordan Fuller, who has moved over from boundary safety to the free safety spot. Fuller was Webb’s backup in 2016, but moved over to the safety spot he played a year ago because he was the best guy for the job. Fuller had an excellent season, which is why he is currently the only safety penciled into a starter’s spot at this point.
“Jordan Fuller is one of the starters,” Urban Meyer said on Wednesday. “We don’t have one yet in the other spot. You have Isaiah and you have Brendon White, and Jahsen Wint. I think those are the three that are competing for it. Josh Proctor when he gets in there, he’ll compete for it. Hook, Marcus Hooker, he’ll compete too. So that’s where we’re at right now.”
Earning a backup safety spot as a true freshman isn’t easy. Fuller did it in 2016 and Vonn Bell did it in 2013, which puts Pryor in some very good company.
He has more than the history of past freshman performances on his side, however.
“I think he’s a worker,” said safeties coach Alex Grinch. “He’s long, he can run, he certainly has a good knowledge base of the defense. That’s noticeable. Like a lot of the young guys, I think the next step for him is to kind of cut it loose and to have the confidence that he knows it.
“Sometimes with young guys, they maybe know it better than they think they do. They’re so used to being a step behind mentally that it affects them physically. One of the transitions they have to make is not to just know it in the media room, but have confidence that you know it when the pads come on and things are happening fast.”
Pryor enrolled early a year ago, so this is his second spring as a Buckeye. The experience will help get him up to full speed with the OSU defense.
“Believe me, there’s a lot of stuff going on from both a receiver standpoint and prior to that from a call standpoint,” Grinch said. “But I feel very confident in his ability to match with the defense mentally. We’ve gotta see him cut it loose physically.”
When Pryor enrolled a year ago, he was part of a class that Meyer could not speak highly enough about. The maturity, intelligence, and work ethic of the entire group was noticeable from the outset. Physically, they were ahead of the curve as well.
Each of those aspects continues with Pryor, who at 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds, brings the kind of size and physicality to safety that coaches covet.
“I have decent range. I come down hard and hit,” Pryor said. “That’s the main thing. But we can always work on everything.”
If a player is looking for work, it’s easy to find on the Ohio State football field. When freshmen enroll early, they step off of the plane at the airport and the workouts pretty much begin on the drive over to the football facilities.
Hearing him describe himself as a player, that sort of mentality suits Isaiah Pryor just fine.
“Hard worker. I hate losing,” he said. “Even today I didn’t feel like I had a great practice, so I’m going to try to work on that and get better. I’m always trying to be the best and do the right thing, on and off the field, and just be a leader to my teammates.”
Isaiah Pryor Wants to be Himself
Now Pryor is competing for the same position that has been manned by Jordan Fuller and Malik Hooker the past two seasons. He could very well be a combination of both players, but he’s only interested in being himself.
“I feel like we’re all our own person,” he said. “We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m just trying to work on all mine.”
What makes Alex Grinch so happy in all of this is that Pryor already possesses the kind of strengths that translate well to the position.
“Extremely strong,” Grinch said. “He’s one of the strongest guys in our room. And probably from a weight room standpoint, closer to some of the big skill as opposed to a skill kid. He also has the ability to run.
“So there’s a lot of positives when you mention Isaiah Pryor. He’s in the position to compete for a spot. There’s not a lot settled at the safety spot in terms of guys with significant game experience. So he’s one of those guys that can compete every day for an opportunity to play on Saturdays.”