Through six games this season, safety Jordan Fuller leads the Ohio State defense in solo (23) and total (32) tackles. He tied for the team lead in tackles his junior season and was just one tackle shy of the same accomplishment as a sophomore.
As much as he excels at taking guys down, he’s also a master at lifting them up. From the stat sheet to the locker room, Fuller is a leader in every sense of the word.
“Jordan Fuller is first class,” said Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley after Fuller was nominated for the William V. Campbell Trophy, honoring the nation’s top scholar-athlete. Fuller entered his senior campaign with a 3.8 overall grade point average and has earned a trophy case’s worth of academic awards along the way.
“He’s respectable. He’s smart. He’s engaged. He has the respect of everyone on the team,” added Hafley. “He is a quiet leader, but when he has to say something, he does and everyone listens. You can always use him as an example, in terms of how hard he practices, how deliberate he practices and how he always does the right thing.”
With his reputation preceding him, Ronnie Lott was eager for the opportunity to speak with the senior safety over the Buckeyes’ bye week.
Even during the brief break in competition, Fuller was specific about what he was concentrating on improving on. Unsurprisingly, leadership skills made the list. “The three things I wanted to work on were my leadership and getting in front of the team more, so I got in front of the team yesterday,” said Fuller. “My catch technique,” he added, “and making the middle of the field a scarier place.”
Lott had no shortage of advice to offer on making the middle of the field more frightening for opposing offenses.
“I love the fact that you said, ‘I want them to be scared.’ At the same time, you want them to be thinking all the time,” replied Lott. “You don’t have to hit somebody in the helmet to make somebody scared,” the devout player safety advocate explained. Instead, “you find a way to make sure that you have activity in that area.” The Hall of Famer stressed the need to make anyone coming across the field aware that Fuller had an eye on them. “Sometimes they don’t even know you’re looking at them, and you still bump them and you still knock them off their stride within that five-yard area.”
“Making people think is really hard, and that’s the game of football – making people think,” concluded Lott. “Speaking of making people think, I hear you make people think off the field too.”
With humility in his voice, Fuller began sharing one of his major off field pursuits.
Alongside other Black male student-athletes at Ohio State, Fuller helped start an organization called Redefining Athletic Standards. “Basically, we just wanted to create a pipeline of success off the field for guys. We know that guys come to Ohio State to go to the league,” he recognized, “But at the same time, we’re people too… trying to develop our voice.”
The organization has been very active since its inception last year, doing everything from hosting a back-to-school bash for children in the Columbus community to a panel discussion on Black men and their mental health.
Lott was only able to scratch the surface of Fuller’s involvement during their brief conversation. The star safety didn’t even mention the student-athlete-led seminar he co-created, “The Buckeye Way: Sexuality, Identity, and Relationships,” where he helped educate fellow student-athletes on sexual assault, sexual violence, and healthy relationships.
Lott was thoroughly impressed. “It tells me that you’re thoughtful about others, and being thoughtful around the idea of making sure that everybody has a chance in life. That’s really, really valuable and that’s a great quest.”
Lott had one last question for the Buckeye before letting him go: what Fuller would say to a young man or woman about what the game means to him.
In keeping with the thoughtfulness that Lott perceived, Fuller paused for a moment before offering a measured response. “The game means so much to me just because it’s taught me so much about life, especially when things aren’t exactly going my way or my team’s way,” he replied, citing the Buckeyes’ shocking losses to Purdue in 2018 and Iowa in 2017.
“We had certain expectations, and life will sometimes hit you when you least expect it,” Fuller reflected. “Sometimes you have to throw your expectations out the window, but I think most of all you just have to keep fighting through adversity,” he continued. “I think that’s what I’ve taken most from football and that’s why I love it so much. That’s why you play every game the hardest you can, just ’cause… it’s just real fragile.”
Beyond Fuller’s called back pick-six and seven tackles last Saturday, the trophy’s namesake told Fuller this conversation characterized “why you’re a Lott [IMPACT Player of the Week] winner – because you embody the idea of not only being a great player, but being a thoughtful human being.”
The No.3 Ohio State Buckeyes will suit up again in seven days under the Friday night lights in Evanston, IL for a 5:30 pm PST match up against the Northwestern Wildcats.
Press play to listen to the full conversation between Ronnie Lott and Jordan Fuller.