Last season, Travis Howard finally put injury problems behind him and got his first good taste of what it’s like to be an Ohio State cornerback. This year, the junior plans to become the next in a long line of Buckeye standouts at the position.
For the first step in that journey, he made a nod to the past.
After wearing No. 18 last year when served as the team’s third cornerback behind seniors Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa, he has donned No. 7 this spring.
“I wanted to change my number because I feel like this was a new year and a new start for me, so changing to No. 7 was a big part of the whole situation,” Howard said. “I felt like wearing No. 7 meant I have to take on a little more swagger and a little more playmaking ability because the guys who wore No. 7 in previous years.”
All-Big Ten safety Jermale Hines, the team’s defensive MVP, had it last year, but Johnson zeroed in on someone a bit older when looking for someone to emulate.
That would be Chris Gamble, a two-way player for the 2002 national champions who was named first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore and a junior before going on to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
“I kind of wanted to switch that back to No. 7 because no one at the corner spot had worn No. 7 in a while, so that was a big input towards it, too,” said Howard, who like Gamble is a Florida native.
But Gamble is far from alone as a successful Ohio State cornerback.
Since 1993, eight Buckeyes have combined for 13 first-team All-Big Ten selections.
Four players - Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Malcolm Jenkins and Chekwa - were all named to an All-America team, and 13 of 15 regular starters during that period of time became NFL draft picks.
The latter number figures to jump to 15 of 17 when the league holds its next draft at the end of this month.
After notching 15 tackles, including a sack, knocking down two passes and intercepting two more, Howard believes his time is coming.
“It is a big task for me,” he said. “My coach sat down and told me wearing this number was not easy, so I had to show them that I’m able to wear No. 7 and go out there and make plays.”