Bulked-up Salley Excited for Senior Season

Senior safety Nate Salley is an imposing figure in the secondary at 6-3, 220 pounds. But it wasn't always that way. Three years ago, Salley was a lanky freshman running around. We recently caught up with Salley who reflected on his OSU career up to this point, including his brief stint with the Buckeyes' basketball team.

When Nate Salley arrived at Ohio State in 2002, he was a lanky, somewhat skinny player. He looked more like a basketball player than a headhunting safety.

But Salley has spent a lot of time in the weight room and the cafeteria over the last three years and has reshaped his body. He now looks like an NFL safety at 6-3, 220 pounds.

"As a freshman, I was like 190," Salley said. "From my freshman year to my sophomore year, I went from 190 to 205. Then I went from 205 to 215 last year and now I'm at 220."

Salley never envisioned that he would develop into such a big safety.

"I didn't think I was going to be 220, but it just happened," he said. "Every summer as I lifted and I kept eating, I just put on the weight. I wasn't even trying to get all that much bigger, but it just happened. And then this summer I kind of had to slow it down cause I got to 220 in the spring and I was like, ‘I can't gain too much weight in the summer.' So, I just kind of kept it at 220. I don't want to get any higher than that."

Salley, a senior, is entering his third year as a starter. He is one of the leaders on a veteran defense. And along with junior safety Donte Whitner, he brings a big-hitting presence to the secondary.

As a junior in 2004, Salley was sixth on the team with 55 tackles and also recorded two interceptions. That was despite missing two games (and most of another game) with injuries.

He still finds it hard to believe that OSU was just 8-4 last year. But it was a young team that didn't start playing well until the second half of the season.

"We had to kind of find ourselves," Salley said. "We had some young guys playing. Everybody had to try and jell together and I believe that we eventually did that. That was a rough time for us, starting with the Northwestern game and going on to Wisconsin, to Iowa. That was very tough on us and I believe we did a great job of fighting back through that and finishing strong."

Salley was asked to explain how OSU can begin the season ranked No. 6 in the country after losing four games last year.

"I just look at it like there's a very thin line between winning and losing at times," he said. "Like in 2002, we had a ton of games we could have lost, but we found a way to win those games. I believe that last year was kind of like the exact opposite. A lot of those close games that we usually found a way to win, we didn't find a way to win them last year. I believe that we have to do a great job of that this year. If we have those close games, we have to find a way to win them no matter what."

Like many of his teammates have mentioned, Salley says the Buckeyes will be more of an attacking defense this season. There won't be as many soft zones, or sitting back and reacting to the offense.

"Yeah, because a lot of teams going to four, five wides and spreading it out a little more," Salley said. "(Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock) has put more of an emphasis on playing man and putting pressure on the quarterback so he can't run around and have all day to throw the ball. So, I believe we have done a good job of that this summer."

Salley is focused on the first game of the season against Miami University on Sept. 3. He has not watched any film on Texas quarterback Vince Young.

"Nah, I haven't," he said. "The coaches have looked at it a little bit, but I'm just trying to stay on Miami right now. We see Vince Young… we saw some of the stuff he did against Michigan and stuff like that, but I'm trying to stay focused on (quarterback) Josh Betts and those guys from Miami."

Salley admits it can be difficult to stay focused on Miami when everyone seems to be talking about Texas.

"Yeah, it's a little tough, but we just try our best to stay focused on what we need to do," he said. "Because we know that we need to win that game first for that Texas game to even matter as much as it should. We have to take care of our business – first things first – and then we can worry about Texas."

Now that camp is winding down, the players see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

"Yeah, you can kind of see it," Salley said. "You can see the light, but still have to focus on getting better each day. You can't kind of take it as, ‘Oh, it's going to be really easy now.' You have to work just as hard as you were at the beginning of camp and keep on pushing through it trying to improve."

Just knowing that the opener is right around the corner is exciting for the players. They will begin game-planning for the RedHawks on Thursday.

"Oh yeah, most definitely," Salley said. "You start to feel it a little more. It's less than two weeks away and the adrenaline starts to build up a little more and I know even next week in practice is going to be real crazy. You know, first game and just thinking about it, it's going to be some guys first game in the 'Shoe and us seniors our last first game in the 'Shoe. We'll have a lot of fun with it."

The Buckeyes will hold their kick scrimmage Wednesday at Ohio Stadium and Salley is one of those players that truly enjoys special teams.

"I like the kick scrimmage," Salley said. "The kick scrimmage is a lot of fun. We just run around and knock each other down and talk trash. Then the loser has to walk home and the guys on the bus kind of look out the window and make fun of the guys walking back to the Woody."

As most will remember, Salley was a member of Ohio State's basketball team as a freshman in 2003. He joined the team soon after the Fiesta Bowl in January and was a reserve guard for coach Jim O'Brien.

Salley says it was not a novelty act. At the time, he intended to play basketball for all four years.

"I was thinking I would do it for four years, but things just continued to lean towards football," he said. "I was trying to be hard-headed about it. I wanted to play ball so bad – I love playing basketball. But, in reality, football is kind of where everything was leaning towards. I had to take my best option."

Salley was asked to pretend he was a basketball coach for a moment. Who would be the Buckeyes' starting five from the football team?

"Me, I'd be the two guard," Salley said. "I'd put Troy (Smith ) at the point. Well, I'd be the three. I'd put Santonio (Holmes) as the two. I'd put Roy (Hall) at the four and I might put Marcel Frost as my center."

What about guys like Lawrence Wilson, Doug Worthington and Robby Schoenhoft?

"I haven't seen them play yet," Salley said. "I have to see what they have. I've seen Marcel work. I know he can play."

Ohio State also has Sian Cotton, who was the starting center for Akron St.Vincent-St.Mary during the LeBron James years.

As for Salley's basketball career, he has not considered calling Thad Matta and asking for a tryout after the football season ends.

"Nah, those days are over man," Salley said with a laugh. "My basketball days are done. I just play around campus and just show off my J a little bit and have fun with it."

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