After Emeka Egbuka averaged 29 yards per kickoff return as a true freshman, it seemed unlikely Ohio State would change kickoff returners this season.
Just two games into the 2022 season, however, Ohio State decided to go in a different direction.
While Egbuka was the kickoff returner for Ohio State’s season opener against Notre Dame, Chip Trayanum was deployed deep in that capacity against Arkansas State, though he did not get the opportunity to return any kicks. Ryan Day said Thursday that Ohio State is planning to keep Trayanum in that role for at least the next game against Toledo and Trayanum could potentially remain in that role throughout the season.
“We’re gonna give him an opportunity and see how it goes,” Day said Thursday. “We think that he’s shown us enough that he’s earned the right to take it back. And I think the guys believe in him. So like anything else, we’ll put him back there and then evaluate after the game and kind of see where to go next.”
While Ohio State certainly doesn’t want Toledo to be kicking off often – as kickoffs, aside from those that start each half, only come after scores – Day is hoping Trayanum will have the opportunity to return at least one kick this week.
“We’re hoping to get the ball in his hands and see what he can do,” Day said. “I think the guys believe in him. And we’re looking forward to seeing if we get one out. We didn’t have a chance last week, but maybe we’ll see what happens this week.”
Although he’s unconventional for a linebacker to return kickoffs, and Trayanum has never returned a kickoff at the collegiate level, he played running back at Arizona State for two years and is widely regarded as one of Ohio State’s fastest players.
Day believes Trayanum’s background as a running back and his combination of speed and size and strength at 230 pounds give him the potential to be a weapon in the kickoff return game for the Buckeyes.
“He’s carried the ball in college games. When you look at his numbers on the GPS, he’s really fast,” Day said. “And then also he’s got some strength to him. And I think when you’re looking for somebody to return in the kickoff game, you gotta have somebody that’s got some strength to them. Because that can be a situation where you gotta be strong. You got to be built sort of like a running back or a bigger wide receiver, in my opinion, to do it all the time. Now you can try to hit a home run once in a while with maybe a slighter guy, but you run the risk of them getting whacked. So we think that he really has an opportunity to be a good returner for us.”
Egbuka – who has a more slender build than Trayanum at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds – supports the decision to make Trayanum the kickoff returner, believing Trayanum can accomplish big things in that role.
“Chip Trayanum might even be better than me,” Egbuka said Wednesday. “He hasn’t gotten the chance to return any yet but you guys are going to see Saturday, he’s a very special talent. One of the most, if not the most athletic guy on the team. I’m excited to see him return some stuff.”
Ohio State hasn’t scored a kickoff return touchdown since Jordan Hall had an 85-yard return for a score against Michigan in 2010, but Egbuka believes Trayanum could be the guy to end that drought.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the first one he’s ever gotten back,” Egbuka said. “I mean, he’s one of the fastest guys on the team being 230 pounds. He can do backflips like it’s nothing. He’s one of the strongest guys in the weight room. If it was me personally on the kickoff team, I would not want to tackle him.
“Seeing him return in practice, it’s like, you don’t really realize how fast he is until he hits that crease. And once he hits that crease, no one on the scout kickoff team has been able to catch him. So, like I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he took it back.”
While Egbuka is no longer returning kicks for at least the time being, he’ll continue to play a major role in Ohio State’s offense as one of the Buckeyes’ starting wide receivers, while he has also taken over punt return duties since Jaxon Smith- Njigba injured his hamstring against Notre Dame – both of which give the Buckeyes reason to take kickoff return duties off his plate if they feel they have another player who can be a dynamic kickoff returner.
For Trayanum, whose only playing time on defense so far came in the final 15 snaps of the Buckeyes’ 45-12 win over Arkansas State, returning kicks gives him the opportunity to play an expanded role on special teams while he awaits the chance to play a bigger role on defence.