Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The kickoff coverage unit of Ohio State’s football team has a new nickname, as anointed by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. He’s named the unit after a species of small but deadly fish.
“We like to say that when kids go after a guy with the ball, it’s like sharks to blood,” Coombs said. “But with (the kickoff coverage) group, you can’t, they’re like piranhas.”
Piranhas are carnivorous fish which are usually smaller than 2 feet long, and Coombs said he uses that term because many of the unit’s players, like 5-foot-8 redshirt sophomore cornerback Adam Griffin and 5-foot-9 freshman cornerback Najee Murray, are too small to be called sharks.
While the term might be a knock on the players’ heights, Coombs clarified that being a piranha instead of a “shark” is not a bad thing.
“You have one big shark or 11 piranhas, I think I’d take my chance trying to get rid of the shark,” Coombs said.
Coach Urban Meyer said the “piranhas” have been impressive. He made specific mention of five players on the unit who “did a really good job” in the Buckeyes’ 63-38 victory against Nebraska: freshman defensive back Devan Bogard, freshman cornerback Armani Reeves, Murray, Griffin and redshirt senior safety Zach Domicone.
Coombs said the most experienced player of that group, Domicone, is emerging as the lead piranha.
“The guy that’s starting to take a little bit of leadership with that group is Zach Domicone,” Coombs said. “A senior guy who’s surrounded by all these freshmen, and they don’t know what they don’t know, and he’s starting to gather them up before we go take the field … he’s starting to take some leadership with that group, and inspire them, and motivate them.”
Domicone said he has embraced the leadership role.
“I kind of wanted to take that role, since there are a lot of young guys on (the unit), and I’ve been here for five years, had a lot of experience on special teams,” Domicone said.
Domicone said the group has had its “ups and downs,” but that the true freshmen in the group – which include Bogard, Reeves and Murray – have played well.
“Our young guys came in ready to go. This is the most game-ready set of freshmen I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Domicone said. “They all came in, positive attitudes, ready to learn, ready to get on the field and ready to be productive and make an impact on this team. They’re not just out there running down the field, a lot of them are out there making plays and tackles and key blocks in key situations.”
Coombs said none of the young players on the kickoff coverage unit had any resistance to playing special teams.
“You would not survive here with resistance to anything,” Coombs said. “What I find with those kids is an eagerness to do something. This is an area where they can really contribute.”
Domicone said Meyer and Coombs challenged the group in the week leading up to the Nebraska game, having allowed 102 yards on just four kickoff returns, an average of 25.5 yards, to Michigan State’s Nick Hill one week earlier. Against Nebraska, the unit held Ameer Abdullah, who ranks fifth nationally in all-purpose yardage, to 128 yards on eight returns, an average of only 16 yards per return.
“We were definitely challenged this week, and I think we stepped up to the challenge,” Domicone said.
Coombs explained that the team takes an aggressive approach with kickoffs.
“There are teams … who have made a conscious decision, they’re going to kick the ball out of the end zone every time they can, let you have the ball on the 25 and go. And what we’ve decided is that we’re going to try to keep you inside the 20 or the 15 … put the ball down there as tight as we can.” Coombs said. “We’re intentionally not kicking it out of the end zone, because we like the way those guys run down the field and cover.”
Domicone said he approaches each kickoff as an opportunity to make a play to start a defensive series.
“We’ve been told every week it’s the first play of defense, so if you really want to go down and help our defense, it starts with us,” Domicone said. “Obviously every play is important, but we know we’re basically sprinting down 60 yards and trying to hit whoever’s in our way and make a play, and since our plays are limited, we try to make the most of them.”
Domicone, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, said with a laugh that he was “a little offended” by being called a piranha rather than a shark, but added that the term is fitting for the unit.
“(The coaches) were like, ‘You’re still a piranha Zach, you’re just a bigger piranha’ … When there’s blood in the water, we go and get it. We say there’s a race to the ball, and the first one down there wins, so it’s definitely a good nickname,” Domicone said.
The piranhas’ next test is schedule to come against Indiana on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Bloomington, Ind.