Freshman safety Sonny Styles carves out early role for Ohio State football

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Josh Proctor has a nickname for fellow safety Sonny Styles.

“I call him a manchild,” Proctor said. “He’s built different, looks different.”

His physical stature at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds is impressive, especially for a 17-year-old who graduated a year early from Pickerington Central to enroll at Ohio State.

But it was Styles' mental makeup that allowed him to carve out a role on defense in last Saturday’s win over Wisconsin, rotating in on short-yardage situations.

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Secondary coach Tim Walton and other safeties all praised Styles this week for the pace at which he picked up their new scheme and the finer points of his position.

“He’s seasoned for a young guy,” Walton said. “He takes it serious. His approach to the game. His football knowledge, he can apply. He can take information from the classroom and apply it to the field. Not all young guys can do that.”

Sonny Styles getting more opportunities for Ohio State

Last week was not Styles’ debut. He first participated on kickoff coverage, as well as other special teams units, in the Buckeyes’ second non-conference game against Arkansas State. In the rout of Toledo the following week, he lined up on defense as starters rested, playing 11 snaps.

His nine snaps in the Big Ten opener, though, were his most significant. With safety Lathan Ransom unavailable, Styles got in on the Badgers’ opening possession when they faced a third-and-1. In response, the Buckeyes stacked the box.

Styles’ performance was mixed. He missed a tackle and was flagged for a personal foul late in the second quarter.

Following the penalty, Proctor said he consoled Styles.

“My message to him was snap and clear,” Proctor said. “Play the next play. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I know it’s easy to go into that hole, but just lock in the next play and get it right the next time.”

Walton said Styles has made quick recoveries before.

“He fixes his mistakes and they don’t show up a second time,” Walton said. “That shows the level of being able to have recall of things we do, to keep applying it.”

Ohio State safety Sonny Styles played 11 snaps in the Buckeyes 77-21 rout of Toledo.

How Sonny Styles has impressed Ohio State teammates

Styles began making an impression among teammates soon after he joined the program over the summer.

Safety Ronnie Hickman remembers him appearing to be comfortable identifying packages in film sessions.

“When I had seen him calling out stuff in the film, he might not have said it out loud, but I knew he knew the answer,” Hickman said. “Once I had seen him able to do that stuff, evaluate formations and stuff like that, I knew he was going to be good. Because physical, it was nothing for him. It was all mental.”

Coach Ryan Day said Styles’ adjustment to the college level has taken him by surprise.

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“I did not feel like he would have the impact that he's having early on,” Day said.

The Buckeyes went through a similar situation last fall. Only it fizzled out.

Quinn Ewers, the top-ranked quarterback recruit in the class of 2022, reclassified and enrolled a year early, but buried on the depth chart as a freshman, he transferred to Texas, spending only one semester at Ohio State.

The idea for a similar early enrollment for Styles, also a five-star prospect, was first pitched to Day last November from him and his parents when they met at the Blackwell Inn for his commitment.

Day was supportive, but tried to be cautious and stress the challenges of eschewing a senior year of high school.

“We’re very sensitive to that,” Day said, “to make sure it’s the right thing. Somebody who’s coming into school a year early has to be the right person, and the family has to be behind it. And certainly, the player has to be behind it, because you have to see it through good or bad.

“It’s going to be hard. It’s hard enough for somebody who’s gone through four years of high school.”

What Ryan Day sees in Sonny Styles

Like others, Day has come to appreciate Styles’ work ethic and drive, and he credited his parents’ involvement.

“His parents have done an unbelievable job of raising this young man,” Day said. “He’s special. We’re very fortunate this has worked out this way. He’s going to be a really good Buckeye for us.”

Styles’ father is Lorenzo Styles, a linebacker who also played for the Buckeyes in the early 1990s and was a teammate of Walton, who was a cornerback.

“He has a football pedigree, a football background,” Walton said. “He’s been well-groomed there.”

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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