Like most other head coaches, Urban Meyer has a policy when it comes to redshirting freshmen – he'd rather not.
With the reputation of being a relentless recruiter, the Ohio State head coach has been quoted on multiple occasions as stating that it's his preference that the newest Buckeyes play right away, as opposed to sitting out a year to get acclimated to the rigors of college football.
That means that when a freshman does redshirt at Ohio State – especially for reasons pertaining to his performance and not his health – the competition for playing time that he faces the following year doubles. Not only does he have to play catch-up with his classmates who were fortunate enough to play in their first years, but he also must stave off the next wave of highly touted Buckeyes.
That's precisely the predicament that Tyvis Powell found himself facing entering the 2013 season. But rather than fall between the cracks of two top-three recruiting classes, the Ohio State defensive back is thriving despite the year sabbatical.
Coming to Columbus prior to the start of the 2012 season, Powell arrived on campus alongside three fellow freshman defensive backs, but unlike Armani Reeves, Devan Bogard and Najee Murray, the Bedford, Ohio, native failed to make a name for himself early on as a capable performer on special teams. As a result, the OSU coaching staff opted to redshirt Powell, allowing him to maintain an extra year of eligibility while sitting out all of 2012.
Rather than pout about being the apparent odd man out, Powell saw his redshirt season as a different kind of early opportunity in his young college career. After all, it was just two years prior that Bradley Roby sat out his freshman season before blossoming into an All-America cornerback.
"When you find out that you're redshirted, most people take it like, ‘Aw, man.' I don't really get down about it," Powell said. "We have the big brother program, and my big brother was Roby. He came to me one day and was like, ‘Tyvis, you only have one chance to do this in a lifetime. Just take every day and work on it and get better.' That really hit me."
Powell's improvement in his year off from game action was evident by the first day of 2013 spring practice.
A three-star prospect coming out of high school, Powell was named the Buckeyes' No. 1 nickel back, essentially a starting role considering the growing number of teams who run spread offenses and require opposing defenses to abandon their base formations. At 6-3, 207 pounds, Powell is almost the ideal fit for what's known as the "Star" position in the OSU scheme, as he possesses both the speed and agility to cover pass catchers and the size to provide support against the run game.
Aside from his mentor, Roby, Powell credited Ohio State wide receivers Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown for helping him develop his skill set as a true freshman.
"When I was on the scout team I was like, ‘Well, I am going against the ones every day so I might as well go ahead and use this time to make myself better,' " Powell said. "That's what I did. I had to go against Devin Smith and Philly in practice, and they were teaching me things like paying attention to their waist and things like that. The team supported me and helped me get better."
Despite exiting spring practice as a starter on the Buckeyes' depth chart, there was no guarantee that that's where Powell would find himself at the start of the season. Even after separating himself from a class of players who once had a head start on him, there was still an incoming group of blue-chip prospects for Powell to worry about.
Particularly, five-star stud Vonn Bell.
The second-ranked safety in the 2013 class made a National Signing Day commitment to play for Meyer and the Buckeyes, and with two senior safeties returning in Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, the Star became the most likely landing spot for Bell in his freshman campaign.
At 5-11, 190 pounds, Bell would have fit right in at the starting spot formerly occupied by Orhian Johnson, but when the Buckeyes took the field for their season-opening win against Buffalo, it was Powell who lined up to cover the Bulls' slot receiver.
By game's end, there was no dispute over who OSU's Star was, with Powell racking up five tackles on the day, four of which he recorded individually. Following his impressive college debut, the redshirt freshman admitted to enduring some nerves throughout the game, but he managed to shake them off with an on-field moment of clarity.
"As the game went on, I remembered this was the game I have been playing since I was 9 years old," Powell said. "Once it kind of slowed down for me, I was able to do some things to help the defense."
A cornerback-safety hybrid, Powell gave praise to position coaches Kerry Coombs and Everett Withers for helping him further his development.
Ironically, however, Powell's favorite play from the Buckeyes' Aug. 31 victory happened when he decided to ignore the direction of the OSU coaches.
After a touchdown return off an interception by Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack brought the Bulls within 10 points of what was once a 23-0 Ohio State lead, quarterback Joe Licata trotted onto the field to attempt a two-point conversion to help his team further inch closer to the Buckeyes. Licata's plans were foiled, though, when a leaping Powell deflected his pass attempt, allowing Ohio State to maintain a two-score advantage.
"It's like something I worked on all spring," Powell said. "I know I am supposed to keep my feet and all, but you see it and you know you have to jump. I went with my instincts on that, and I was happy I was able to make a play for my team."
Powell was seldom used defensively in the Buckeyes' Sept. 7 win over San Diego State, which favors a more traditional offensive attack. He returned to action a week later against California to combat the Golden Bears' high-powered spread attack, tallying five tackles in a 52-34 OSU victory. He added three tackles against Florida A&M to give him 13 tackles on the season. (Ed Note: Powell now has 19 tackles on the season through six games.)
Powell will continue to be a key part of the defense, especially when Ohio State plays spread teams such as Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana, which prompted Meyer to call the nickel back "a guy we're going to count on."
Despite his hard-line approach toward redshirting, even the two-time national champion head coach realizes that some things are worth waiting for.