Underwood Brothers Back On Track

One of the few concerns for Ohio State heading into the 2005 season is depth at cornerback. However, if EJ and Brandon Underwood return to the team and play up to their potential, the Buckeyes should be just fine at corner. We tracked down Reverend Underwood for an update on his sons.

Reverend Elmer Underwood – father of Ohio State cornerbacks EJ and Brandon Underwood – expects that both of his sons will play an integral role in the 2005 Buckeyes.

EJ, a senior, will spend this summer in Arizona going to school and working on his football skills. Yes, it's a bit of a usual situation, but Reverend Underwood explained why it's a necessary move.

"The reason why EJ is going to Arizona is, number one, he cannot workout with the team due to NCAA rules," Underwood said. "We have a personal trainer down there who's a family friend and he's one of the best trainers in the world. We wanted to get EJ out of Columbus, let him relax and just enjoy himself. But he will be going to summer school down there at a community college. So, he's not just down there to work out with the pros. We just want EJ to catch up with the rest of his classwork and he'll be fine down there."

In addition to taking classes at a community college, EJ will also take an independent studies class through Ohio State.

"Well the credit hours that he is accumulating at the community college and the class that he'll be taking online from Ohio State will give him enough hours and he'll be fine and he'll be back with the team come Aug. 9," Rev Underwood said.

Junior Ashton Youboty has one of the starting corner spots locked down. But many wonder who will step up as the other starting corner. One option is senior Tyler Everett, who has played safety his first three years in the program. There are also young players like Sirjo Welch and Shaun Lane, who each looked decent at times in the spring.

But if EJ Underwood is ready to go, he seems like the best candidate to start opposite of Youboty. Head coach Jim Tressel said prior to last season that EJ is the most talented cornerback he has ever coached. Tressel also told reporters in April there was a chance EJ would return to the team this fall.

Rev Underwood was asked if he believes EJ will be a starting corner this season for OSU.

"Well, I'm going to put it to you like this: I'm going to leave that to God and EJ and Coach Tressel," he said. "But I feel good about EJ. He's working hard. EJ is very confident right now."

EJ and Brandon were both invited to Deion Sanders' cornerback camp in Texas this summer. Some would argue that Sanders is one of the best cover corners in NFL history. They probably don't teach much tackling at Sanders' camp, but in terms of cover skills, he is the cream of the crop and it will be a good learning experience for the Underwoods.

"Deion has invited EJ, Brandon and some other top corners from around the country," Rev Underwood said. "EJ has been mentored by Deion and that is no secret. That has been going on for years."

One area of EJ's game that needs improvement is his zone cover skills. He is more comfortable playing man.

"Well, what Deion and him have been discussing is that EJ has been more or less tentative playing in the zone coverage," Rev said. "But that's just something that he's got to do.

"We want to set the record straight. I do not coach my son. The coaches do the coaching. Not Reverend Underwood, who played for Dick ‘Night Train' Lane, one of the greatest DBs of all time. EJ is a very coachable kid. EJ just had some personal problems happen last year during his life – and I'm not making excuses for my son. Those who are in the football family know what took place. One of the things was that they thought I had cancer. Now, I've been re-diagnosed that I don't have it. God has blessed this family and I think you'll see a different EJ Underwood and Brandon this year."

The Rev says that most cornerbacks prefer playing man. EJ is no different; he's just been more vocal about it.

"Well, people like to say that EJ wants to play man-to-man," Rev Underwood said. "If people would have looked at what (Dustin) Fox had said, he said he wished they would have played a lot more man-to-man because that prepares you for the next level.

"EJ has shut down almost every kid that he has ever played against one-on-one. Yes, he will get scored on. That's part of a defensive back's makeup. You're going to get scored on. But it's how you come back.

"People say that EJ is a half-step late (in coverage) or whatever. If you look at the touchdowns that he's given up, he's always been right there making a play on the ball. Always."

As for Brandon, he suffered a separated shoulder in the 2004 Big 33 game and was forced to redshirt at OSU.

However, he is now back better than ever according to his father.

"Brandon right now is 100 percent," he said. "Brandon is ready for Aug. 9 to hit here. I think the whole team is ready. There's a vibe going around Ohio State campus right now. These kids are looking forward to it, that's why I think it's going to be a special year again for the Buckeye nation.

"Brandon has been working out with the strength and conditioning coach. When his shoulder was injured, he could not lift. Brandon is a very physical corner and I think everybody overlooked the fact that our corner depth is going to be fine once we get back to Aug. 9. Brandon is looking forward to it. In fact, I talked to him on the phone (recently). Trust me, the Underwood boys will be ready."

Presuming that Youboty and EJ are the two starting corners, could Brandon step up and be that No. 3 corner this season?

"Let me put it to you like this: Those in the football family who watched Brandon work out during the season working against the number ones, know that Brandon is very, very capable," Rev Underwood said. "He had a heck of a campaign during the all-star games last summer… He's going to break out and show people he's for real."

Brandon is listed at 6-2, 170, but his father says he is actually 6-3, 190.

EJ is listed at 6-1, 175, but the Rev says he is up to 190 pounds as well.

"EJ hasn't been 175 since his freshman year. But somehow or another, they keep listing him at 175," he said. "Coach Al Johnson knows what EJ's weight is and he is very pleased with it."

Until he leaves for Arizona (following OSU's spring quarter) EJ is working out with former Ohio State players in Columbus. He is also staying in contact with the coaching staff.

"Well, EJ went in to see (defensive coordinator Jim) Heacock a couple weeks ago and he also spoke with Coach Tressel," Rev Underwood said. "He's not allowed to work out with the Buckeyes, that's why he is working out in Columbus (until he leaves for Arizona) with several former Buckeyes and you can catch him at various locations throughout the city. They've been working out very, very hard.

"But he's been mostly concentrating on his books. That's what the coaches are telling him to do. Right now, EJ is focused on that. He knows what is at stake and he's growing into a very fine young man. I'm very proud of him. We talked to him last week – me and Mrs. Underwood – and he assured us that he is taking everything serious and he knows what he's got to do. The coaches are leaving him alone, even though they are talking to him."

But EJ and new cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman have not spoken yet.

"He has not had a chance to meet with him," Rev Underwood said. "He won't have chance to meet with him until after school is out, due to what the NCAA has put on him. He's not kicked out of school. He's part of Ohio State's football program still, he just cannot utilize the facilities unless he's in there by himself. But EJ has found that a lot of the pros are home, so therefore, that's where he's been working out, with a lot of the guys getting the knowledge that he needs to accept. He's looking forward to meeting with the new (cornerbacks) coach."

* For the entire interview with Reverend Underwood, tune in to the Bucknuts Radio Hour.


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