When Nick Vannett committed to Ohio State, he knew he was taking a leap of faith. Really, the Buckeyes’ offensive philosophy didn’t schematically meet the tight end’s criteria during his recruitment.
Ohio State didn’t always play to his strengths, which is catching the football. Vannett noticed the program had a dynamic tight end in Jake Stoneburner who had receiving roots, but he also realized Stoneburner rarely caught passes.
“It was always a concern to me,” Vannett said. “The tight ends weren’t really used a lot in the passing scheme in the offense. It definitely was a concern.”
A local prospect out of Westerville (Ohio) Central, Vannett saw bigger value in Ohio State’s program. Ran by Jim Tressel at the time of Vannett’s commitment, Ohio State was the local program the tight end grew up cherishing. That turned out to be more important.
He rattled off reasons he chose to be a Buckeye: “The people, the tradition and the excellence,” he said. That happens to be the official slogan of the program.
So he committed to Tressel as part of the 2011 recruiting class, trusting the former head coach would find a way to adjust to his personnel. Maybe Tressel would have, but it never got to that point. Tressel resigned amid scandal in May 2011.
It was a painful situation for Vannett given the tight end’s love for the program and his close relationship with Tressel. However, after a redshirt season under interim head coach Luke Fickell a year ago, Vannett was given perhaps the biggest gift of his career as a result.
Ohio State hired Urban Meyer.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Vannett said of Meyer’s hiring. “In high school I was so used to playing all over the place – in the slot, lined up to the tackle, out wide. Now that we run a similar offense here, I just feel comfortable. I think I’m able to showcase my skills doing that. I couldn’t be happier.”
A spread offense guru that won two national championships at Florida – and a coach that hasn’t hid his admiration for playmaking tight ends – Meyer came to Ohio State and flipped the Buckeyes offense upside down.
Meyer had a history developing players at that position, most notably former Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is currently starring with the New England Patriots and is amongst the highest-paid players at the position in the NFL.
The head coach immediately got to work in his first spring and the coach even laid the groundwork for Vannett and sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman to have a quicker route to the field when he moved the senior Stoneburner to wide receiver.
Things couldn’t have been working out better for Vannett. Then Meyer, like he typically does with his players, had a blunt conversation in the spring with the redshirt freshman.
“He came over to me and we had a few talks,” Vannett said of Meyer. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent. You’ve just got to understand this stuff.’ He basically told me that he couldn’t trust me at first because I wasn’t really doing my assignments as well as I can.”
That was the moment Vannett realized he wasn’t simply going to get on the field because the scheme fit his skill-set and Stoneburner was with the wide receivers. Remember, the Buckeyes’ tight end position now is a position the fullbacks are also expected to be able to play proficiently.
Vannett didn’t waste his time earning Meyer’s trust. He hit the playbook harder, he took his schooling more seriously and was a regular in the weight room, all of which was happening behind the scenes.
Meyer then brought up Vannett as one of the most improved players during a fall meeting with the media. He asserted that Vannett would have a considerable role in this year’s offense merely months after the tight end was an afterthought on the depth chart.
“He's going to be right in the middle of this thing, and I didn't see that at all in the spring,” Meyer said. “If you noticed, I didn't even bring his name up because he really was not a very functional guy in the spring. I love giving credit where credit is due.”
Tight ends coach Tim Hinton agreed with his boss.
“He’s really conceptually learned the offense, and that’s the biggest thing,” Hinton said of Vannett. “He has a lot of natural skill. He can run very good routes, he’s got loose hips and he’s fluid for as long and angular as he is.”
Vannett caught two passes for 13 yards in Ohio State’s 56-10 win over Miami (Ohio) in the season opener on Sept. 1. More importantly than the statistical output, Vannett was on the field and a receiving option.
And as a redshirt freshman, he has plenty of football ahead of him. The leap of faith he took during his recruiting process could make for quite the jump.
“I can’t wait to see what the future has in store,” Vannett said.
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