At some point in the next week or two, a first-year Ohio State football player will likely join an exclusive club, becoming the first player in his class to lose his black stripe.
Every season since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2012, first-year players in the Ohio State football program have started their careers with a black stripe down the middle of their helmet.
After weeks or months of hard work and dedication, once a player has proven himself worthy of being a part of the team, the black stripe is removed, replaced with the traditional scarlet stripe, and he earns the right to be a full-fledged member of the program.
It’s tempting to just dismiss the whole thing as an artificial motivational tool conjured up by Meyer, the proud owner of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and propagated by writers who need something to pontificate about during a time when there’s a high demand for football information and not a lot of actual news to satisfy it.
However, a closer examination of the history of the stripe shows that it’s actually a decent predictor of which new players will make an early impact on the field, and potentially have big careers down the line.
2012: Freshman Devan Bogard was the first player in Meyer’s tenure to lose his black stripe. He played extensively on special teams that year before suffering a knee injury. He was a backup safety the next year before another knee injury cut his sophomore season short. He played again as a junior before suffering yet another knee injury mid-season. He ended up taking medical hardship status and retiring due to those knee injuries.
DE Noah Spence was the second player that year to earn a scarlet stripe. He earned a spot in the defensive line rotation that fall, recording 12 tackles and one sack, and then turned into one of the league’s most-feared pass rushers in 2013 with 50 tackles, 14 for loss, and 7.5 sacks. Spence’s career in Columbus ultimately derailed due to off-field issues, but he rebounded to become a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and had 5.5 sacks as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2013: Freshman walk-on WR Joe Ramstetter somehow jumped to the front of the line ahead of one of the greatest recruiting classes in OSU history, losing his stripe before all of his more highly-touted classmates. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ramstetter never recorded a reception during his OSU career.
The first scholarship players to officially earn their way onto the team were HB Dontre Wilson, who was the talk of camp that year, and LB Mike Mitchell. Wilson put up 460 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns that fall, impressive numbers on a loaded Buckeye offense. He was slowed by injuries over the years, but finished his career with more than 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mitchell got off to a fast start in camp, but never got on the field once the season started. He transferred to Texas Tech following his freshman year. He only recorded seven tackles in his college career.
You’ve probably heard of the next two guys to lose their stripes that year, Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa.
2014: Scarlet was the new black for RB Curtis Samuel and LB Raekwon McMillan, the first two guys to make the switch. Both were immediate contributors that fall, and then grew into stars. Samuel put up 478 total yards and six touchdowns as a freshman that season, while McMillan had 54 tackles and 2.5 sacks that fall.
2015: OT Isaiah Prince was the first freshman to lose his stripe, and was one of only four true freshmen to play that fall. He earned the starting RT job a year later, improved dramatically as a junior in 2017, and is expected to seize the LT job this fall. The second player was Mike Weber, who was impressive early, but redshirted that season due to injury. He rushed for 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman the following year.
2016: Freshman WR Austin Mack was the first player to switch from black to scarlet. Mack earned the right to play that fall, but had only two catches for 15 yards. Still, he took a big step forward as a sophomore with 343 yards and two touchdowns, and seems poised for a breakout this fall. The second player to lose his stripe was offensive lineman Michael Jordan, who ended up earning the starting left guard job that season.
2017: JUCO transfer CB Kendall Sheffield was the first Buckeye to lose his stripe during spring practice. Sheffield played extensively during the 2017 season, recording 40 tackles and breaking up nine passes.
Safety Isaiah Pryor was the second player to go from black to red, followed by DE Chase Young. All three of them played extensively as freshmen on the Big Ten championship team and are penciled in as starters as sophomores.
Losing your stripe late isn’t generally a great sign for a player’s chance to get on the field, but it’s not a death sentence for a guy’s time in Columbus, either.
Eli Apple wore the black stripe throughout his entire first season in 2013, only getting it removed as a redshirt freshman the following year. That year, Apple won a starting job and was named a freshman all-American. He put up another strong season as a redshirt sophomore in 2015 and went 10th overall in the following spring’s NFL Draft.
In 2014, offensive lineman Jamarco Jones was still sporting the black stripe after the season had started. He ended up starting 27 games at LT in his career, winning second team all-conference honors as a junior and first team all-Big Ten as a senior.
In 2016, there were 19 players who went from black to red before Nick Bosa did on August 25th. He recorded his first career sack just nine days later in the Buckeyes’ season opener against Bowling Green.