It's time for Kurt Coleman to step into the limelight.
The senior strong safety will be one of Ohio State's defensive leaders this season, a job he has been well trained for after playing alongside James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins among others during his three year OSU career. During the recent Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, the Dayton-area native spoke about getting his chance to finally lead the Buckeyes.
"I've taken a lot of wisdom and a lot of things from Malcolm, James and even when Troy (Smith) was there," Coleman said. "I watched them a lot and I saw how they carried themselves and carried the team. I've tried to use some of those things they've given me around the team this year."
Coleman had his best season as a Buckeye in 2008, earning second team All-Big Ten honors after a year in which he ranked third on the team with 78 tackles despite missing the first two games with an ankle injury. The Clayton (Ohio) Northmont product also hauled in four interceptions – the first of his career. In fact, Coleman spoke on several occasions about a competition he had with Jenkins and the other defensive backs over who would finish the season with more interceptions.
For the record, Coleman won the competition. His four picks were a team high – one better than Jenkins and two better than Anderson Russell. Coleman also broke up five passes, forced a fumble and recorded four tackles for a loss.
"Malcolm and I – it's kind of funny the relationship we had," Coleman said. "We'd be yelling back and forth about who was right and who was wrong. It was a fun relationship."
Jenkins was the unquestioned leader of the Ohio State secondary in 2008, especially vocally. Whether or not Coleman will be that type of leader this fall remains to be seen, but his teammates have no doubts Coleman will succeed.
"Kurt's a guy who doesn't like to lose too much," tight end Jake Ballard added. "He's going to do everything he can to make sure that doesn't happen, and he's going to take everyone on the team along on his back if he has to. He's one of the most determined guys on the team and one of the hardest workers."
And don't be surprised if Coleman takes Jenkins' place as the resident trash talker on the defensive side of the ball, either.
"Malcolm was loud on and off the field," Ballard said. "Kurt's kind of cool, calm and collected off the field. But on the field he's hard-nosed and loud. He'll let you know if he knocks you on your butt. That's the type of person you want leading your defense."
Coleman hopes to not only lead his unit this season, but become one of the top defenders in the nation. His stats have improved each season, and with continued team success, that should continue during his final OSU season.
"I pay attention to top guys in the nation," Coleman said this spring. "(Tennessee strong safety) Eric Berry had (seven) interceptions. That's kind of a goal for me, to try to get better at that. I really feel like as this team gets better and we do well, my stats will come. I'm not really worried about how I'll do, just how the team does."
A focus on the finer points of his game will be the key, according to Coleman. The 5-11, 188-pound third-year starter admitted to watching hours of film looking for his own weaknesses. That is one of the main things Coleman said he's learned at Ohio State.
"I've definitely learned that everything you do you have to do to the fullest," Coleman said. "There's a lot of minor things that you may overlook when you're young. I've taken a little finer detail, especially critiquing myself and watching other teams. I think it's helped me out."
On and off the field, Coleman will look for improvement this fall. And he'll use the past lessons from his former Ohio State teammates in order to succeed.
"I have to be the guy who sets the bar for everybody," Coleman said. "Before you could kind of lean back on James or Malcolm or Marcus (Freeman). This year I feel like I've got to set the pace and lead by example with everything I do. I always felt like I did the right things and played well, but this year I have to (do more)."