Rob Oller | Buckeyes defensive backs live up to #BIA tag

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
If Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade plays to his potential and stays injury-free, he could be the Buckeyes' eighth defensive back to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft in six years. [Samantha Mader/Dispatch]

Among the generational differences that mark geezers from Gen Z’ers is the proliferation of the hashtag acronym. Where the older generation grew up saying “Be right back,” the young-uns type #BRB. You only live once becomes #YOLO. And so on. In a world of character counts, efficiency rules. Those of us whose legs resemble chicken skin have had to adjust.

Kerry Coombs is not young, but to my thinking he is not old. The Ohio State defensive coordinator/secondary coach does not turn the big 6-0 for another 11 months, and while his hair may be the color of a Buckeyes helmet, he bounces around football practice like Tigger.

Coombs has adjusted to life among the acronyms. One might even say he has thrived. Being around players in their late teens and early 20s keeps him on his toes. Part of that includes being able to talk the talk with college athletes, or in his case, type the talk.

History can be murky, but I am going with the version that says Coombs came up with Best In America, now shortened to #BIA, which is the tag used by Ohio State defensive backs to distinguish them from other schools who claim to be #DBU (Defensive Back University). Put it this way: If nothing else, Coombs inspired the acronym.

“Since we only play football in America, we decided Best in America,” Coombs explained in humble brag. (He could have dubbed it Best in Universe, right?)

“It’s not something you just say and someone slaps it on a shirt and a hashtag and you become that,” he continued. “We try to hold ourselves to be accountable to that every day.”

So far, so good. Seven Buckeyes defensive backs in the past five years have gone in the first round of the NFL draft. Coombs recruited five of them. His secret sauce?

“A kid who refuses to lose, and plays with a fearless mentality of, ‘My man catches no balls,’” he said of the kind of player he recruits. “Physically, I love long, fast corners, but more than anything I want a mentally tough guy who has the confidence that his guy is not going to get open.”

Coombs does an excellent job of promoting Best In America as an expectation of excellence, senior defensive back Marcus Williamson said.

“We come here to win championships and get to the next level. Coach Coombs preaches that every day,” Williamson said.

Here is where it gets interesting. This #BIA thing may be relatively new, but Ohio State’s development of NFL-level defensive backs goes back decades. In fact, producing DBs is what the Buckeyes do best.

Since the common era of the NFL draft began, in 1967, Ohio State leads all schools with 57 defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) selected, including 20 in the first round. The highest picks were Shawn Springs (1997) and Denzel Ward (2019), who both went third overall, to Seattle and Cleveland, respectively.

But they aren’t even the biggest names. Jack Tatum went 19th to Oakland in 1971 and Malcolm Jenkins 14th to New Orleans in 2009.

Surprised? I was. I would have thought the Buckeyes were better at placing running backs, linebackers and wide receivers into the draft, comparative to other schools. Instead, they’re not top-three in running backs and receivers and rank third in linebackers, with their 54 coming in behind Penn State (59) and Southern California (56).

Best in America is nothing new to former Ohio State safety Mike Doss, a three-time All-American (2000-02) who chose to follow in the footsteps of OSU first-round picks Springs, Jenkins, Antoine Winfield (1999) and Nate Clements (2000).

“We weren’t recognized in public as DBU, but I looked at Ohio State as DBU,” Doss said. “I was right there when the (NFL) was coming through Columbus. For me looking at schools, that was definitely a selling point.”

Doss, whom Indianapolis selected in the second round of the 2003 draft, takes pride in having helped pass the torch to the next generation of defensive backs.

“We helped light a flame that’s carried on for almost 20 years,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you come to Columbus and you get onto the field in your first one or two years, you know you have a shot at being a professional.”

Hear that, Shaun Wade? Get ready to punch that ticket.