Cornerback can be a thankless position. When they make a good play, they’re just doing something they’re supposed to be doing. When they give up a big play or get a flag thrown on them, however, there is no brighter spotlight in football. And that spotlight can burn an indelible mark on some players.
As a redshirt sophomore starting cornerback in 2017, Damon Arnette had a long line of starting Buckeye cornerbacks to live up to. The season began in a rough way for the OSU pass defense, with 806 yards passing allowed in the first two games.
Ohio State’s pass defense would only allow four more games of 200 yards passing that season, but some reputational damage had already occurred to cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield. Last year, their play improved, but the stigma was impossible to shake. And there were a couple of gaffes that came at the wrong time. For instance, of Arnette’s five penalties last season (which tied for third-most in the OSU secondary), two came against Michigan. And his inability to properly contain Maryland running back Anthony McFarland on one particular 80-yard run was impossible to ignore.
But that’s life on an island. Every decision has heavy consequences.
This offseason, Arnette was greeted by his third different position coach in three years and began the process of learning his third different defense as a Buckeye.
About halfway through spring, new secondary coach Jeff Hafley was asked about what he had seen from Arnette, given his “ups and downs.” Hafley replied at the time that he had seen no downs.
Last week, Hafley met with the media for the first time since that day and reiterated his position on Arnette and how well he has done so far.
“It is hard to see a change because I was never around him,” he said. “I watched his film. I studied his film as I was getting ready to take the job and I saw a very talented player. He plays hard and has tremendous ability. Can cover, tough, physical, and then I saw the same things on the field. He’s a guy that loves football and a guy who works hard, a guy who gave it his all every single day, a guy who actually seemed like he enjoyed being out there. He played with confidence and has a ton of ability.”
There are still things that Hafley knows they need to work on, which is the case for every player on the team. There are no finished products in the Scarlet and Gray, but Hafley has been thrilled with how intent Arnette is on getting there.
“He’s given everything that he has had, and he has not been any issue,” Hafley said. “So, if I had never had heard anything about him, and you guys had mentioned [past issues], ‘what are you guys talking about?’ That is how I came in. I wanted to give everyone a clean slate and I did that. Until he proves otherwise, I am not going to think about it.”
This is Damon Arnette’s final opportunity to add his name to OSU’s cornerback legacy, and based on everything that Jeff Hafley has seen to this point, the 2019 season could bring the kind of spotlight that cornerbacks actually want.
“Like I said, if I woke up today and just met him and nobody had ever told me anything about him, I would think you were crazy if you told me there were issues with him,” Hafley reiterated. “He has done everything that we have asked him to do. I think he had a really good spring and I think he picked up on some of the techniques we are doing very well.
“I think he is a very talented player and we have got to get him better in training camp and he has got to stay healthy. I think he has a chance to have a really good year. He is made of the right stuff, he is tough, and he loves football. He might like football more than most people I have ever been around. You love guys like that.”