Improvement has been the big goal for Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield this year.
A two-year starter on the unit that brands itself Best In America, Sheffield was considered one of this year’s leading candidates to follow in the footsteps of Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, and Denzel Ward. All of them were Buckeye corners picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in the last five years.
Sheffield isn’t quite ready to roll off that same assembly line and into the first round of the draft just yet, but he’s getting closer.
“I think each week I’ve gotten better and better even through my ups and downs throughout the season,” Sheffield said before the Rose Bowl.
Take a moment to scoff if you want. If you’re like a lot of Buckeye fans, you’ve probably spent the season yelling at your TV about Sheffield.
He gives up too many big plays!
He gets called for too many penalties!
Try to guess how many flags were thrown on Sheffield this season. What’s the number in your head right now? Eight? 10? 12?
Would you believe the number is three? He was called one time for holding, once for pass interference, and once for offsides. And that last one was declined.
Sheffield knows the criticism is out there, but has learned to tune it out.
“Really just don’t pay attention to it. Mostly focus on what my cornerback coach has to say and just get better,” he said. “I just learned to fight through it and just keep pushing.”
Sheffield started his career at Alabama, coming in as a 5-star prospect ranked the No. 20 player in the nation overall.
He redshirted in 2015, then decided to transfer to Blinn Junior College in Texas. After playing the 2016 season at Blinn, the Buckeyes came calling.
“Coach (Kerry) Coombs and Coach (Urban) Meyer came down and sold their school to me,” Sheffield said. “I knew they had a three-man rotation, and once Gareon Conley left and Marshon Lattimore left, I knew there was a starting position. So I wanted to come up here and get better and just fight for a position.”
Sheffield earned a spot in that rotation in 2017, and was a full-time starter this fall. But through two seasons in Columbus, there was something he had never done before the Rose Bowl trip – interviews with the Ohio State football media.
During most previous team-wide interview opportunities, such as open locker rooms following the Big Ten Championship Game or last year’s Cotton Bowl, Sheffield was nowhere to be found.
But after initially sliding out a side door at this year’s Rose Bowl Media Day, Sheffield returned and met with reporters. His position coach was legitimately delighted to hear that.
“Oh, is that right? He did it? He did it!” said Taver Johnson. “I’m going to give him a hug.”
While Sheffield may be something of an unknown outside of the program, he is beloved within the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“He’s probably one of the funniest guys in the building. He’s always cracking jokes, great personality,” said Johnson. “When it’s time to work, he gets serious. He really, really, really takes pride in his work. He really studies the game.”
Sheffield is eligible to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, but said he hasn’t really thought yet about whether or not to turn pro. He knows he still has work to do.
“I can always work on my technique at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “Just getting better on and off the field.”