As the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes begin spring ball, many are battling for starting, and second string roles. Perhaps the most intriguing position battle is the punter position. The Buckeyes thought they had the starting spot locked up when Under Amour high school All-American Johnny Townsend gave his verbal commitment to Ohio State in June. Unfortunately, Townsend was a signing day snub when just a day later Townsend flipped his commitment and signed with his hometown Florida Gators. The Buckeyes now have a decision to make. Simply, who will be their punter?
The likelihood is that Ohio State will go with already starting kicker Drew Basil. However, the Buckeyes do have options and one of them is third year punter/kicker Jake Russell. Russell, out of Twinsburg, Ohio will likely be a long shot for the position however, the 6’1 195 pound Russell is preparing as though he will be the starting punter for The Buckeyes. “My strengths are putting the ball where it needs to be and my leg speed (power),” said Russell. “I have gotten more consistent since the fall, but I am not where I want to be right now.”
Two and a half years ago, I was a senior in high school playing football for Brunswick High School. One particular Friday, we took on the Twinsburg Tigers on their homecoming night. We were to receive the opening kickoff…or so we thought. Twinsburg’s senior kicker Jake Russell boomed the opening kickoff out of the endzone and for the rest of the night our return men never touched the ball. Russell was a kicking dynamo for the Tigers, recording 44 of 46 on extra points five field goals (long of 42 yards) and 28 touchbacks his senior year. A two year football player, Russell was originally committed to play soccer for the Bowling Green Falcons on scholarship. Head football coach at Twinsburg Mark Solis recommended he make a highlight tape of his punting/kicking skills and send them out. Sure enough, Russell was contacted by Toledo and yes, Ohio State. Former offensive coordinator Jim Bollman made a visit to Twinsburg and offered Russell a preferred walk-on spot. After visiting campus, Russell “fell in love with the school and the opportunity to be a Buckeye.”
Now entering his third season with the Buckeye’s, Russell has a chance at following in the footsteps of names like Andy Groom, AJ Trapasso and of course Jon Thoma. However Russell knows that this is not going to be easy. When asked what his biggest obstacle is for earning the starting punter spot, Russell stated that, “my biggest obstacle is experience. I started playing football my junior year of high school (kicked only) and didn’t punt until my senior year.” Russell continued, “The speed at this level is something I think I’ll get used to as time goes on, but I just need to make sure I am consistent and have the same form on every punt.”
Russell is aware that Drew Basil is the leading candidate for the job, but is not counting himself out saying, “Drew is a great punter, a great leader and he has years of game experience on me. I’m going to do everything I can this spring to make a name for myself and show I have the ability to perform.” Other candidates for the position are Frank Epitropoulos and Russell Doup who are also worthy competition for Basil. No matter what happens this spring heading into fall camp, one thing is for certain; Drew Basil has his work cut out for him to win the punter position for the Buckeyes.
Another notable position battle that will take place this fall is the corner spot opposite returning starter Bradley Roby. Junior Doran Grant provides the Buckeyes with the most experience at the position as he saw time last season when Travis Howard or Roby were banged up. Other contenders will include freshman Eli Apple, Cam Burrows and sophomore Tyvis Powell. The Buckeyes will also need to replace two linebacker spots as well as their entire defensive line. Likely to fill the linebacker spots are junior Curtis Grant along with sophomore Joshua Perry. The front four for Ohio State is likely to include sophomores Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and juniors Joel Hale and Mike Bennett. Look for a very intense, and fun spring from the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes.