Apple Wows During Student Appreciation Day

Ohio State students were welcome to attend the Buckeyes' practice on Saturday and if the 2,500 fans in attendance were treated to a show, then Eli Apple was the star. The redshirt freshman finally had his black stripe removed after a particularly impressive performance during the Ohio State spring practice session.

Saturday marked Ohio State's third annual fan appreciation day, a day in which OSU students were permitted to attend an open Buckeyes' spring practice. With more than 2,500 in attendance, one student seemed to enjoy himself more than others as Eli Apple enjoyed perhaps his most impressive day since arriving on campus more than a year ago.

The redshirt freshman cornerback stole the show on Saturday, recording an interception on quarterback J.T. Barrett, delivering a thundering hit on wide receiver Jeff Greene, breaking up a pass over wide receiver Corey Smith and stopping hybrid speedster Dontre Wilson on a reverse. Apple's impressive outing not only earned him first-team reps opposite classmate Gareon Conley for a portion of practice, but led to the black stripe on his helmet being removed, symbolically signaling his "official" arrival as an Ohio State Buckeye.

"It felt great. I've been here for the longest," said Apple, who enrolled early at Ohio State in January 2013. "To get the opportunity to come out and make some plays and get my black stripe off, it just means the world to me."

A 6-1, 195-pounder byway of Voorhees, N.J., Apple arrived at Ohio State last winter with lofty expectations as a four-star prospect and the nation's 11th-ranked corner. But that failed to materialize into immediate success for Apple, who didn't see a single snap of action in 2013 as he redshirted his freshman season.

Unlike classmates Cameron Burrows and Conley, Apple appeared to fall particularly behind the curve, as evidenced by his black stripe not being removed until Saturday. The Garden State product admitted that he took that personally, which made Saturday's success all the sweeter.

"It was definitely very disappointing, because you see other guys getting their black stripe off in practice and you feel like you're going hard in practice too," Apple said. "It hurt me more than anything. When I first came here, that was the biggest thing they emphasized. And then to get it off today -- it just feels like a monkey's off my back."

After missing the first few practices of spring ball this season with an illness, Apple appears to have inserted himself in the race for the right to start opposite senior-to-be Doran Grant in the Buckeyes' defensive backfield. Apple knows that his early setbacks make him an underdog while competing against Conley and Armani Reeves, but his showing on Saturday is certainly a sign that he's trending in the right direction.

"I look at some of the reports and things like that and sometimes it's disheartening," Apple admitted of some of his playing time projections. "My problem last year was just me being consistent. I'd have a good practice and then another practice, I'd be bad. Throughout spring I just wanted to get better every day and work on my technique.

"I was just really, really anxious to show the people what I've been doing... today was definitely a day that I wanted to come out and show out for my team."

Apple's next opportunity to perform in front of a crowd will come next Saturday when the Buckeyes host their annual spring game. But he's not looking that far ahead just yet, as he attempts to stick to his day-by-day formula.

"We've got another (closed) scrimmage coming up Wednesday," Apple reminded reporters. "I just gotta keep improving. That's the main thing for me right now."

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