Ohio State is a program with a rich history in many areas of the game. Their ability to develop elite talent on a yearly basis is rivaled by only a few other schools around the nation.
At the running back position, we’ve seen legendary players such as Eddie George, Ezekiel Elliott, and Archie Griffin run wild while donning the Scarlet and Gray.
As for the 2021 NFL Draft, Trey Sermon hopes to hear his name mentioned amongst the best to ever come through Columbus one day. Sermon leaves the Buckeyes after averaging a career-best 7.5 yards per carry in 2020. He found a way to shine as a big-time playmaker despite sharing carries in the backfield with Master Teague.
One of the most exciting runners in this class, Sermon has the traits and experience to make a flawless transition to the next level. We recently spoke with Sermon about his legacy at Ohio State, what he enjoys about running the football, his legendary performance against Clemson in the playoffs, and much more.
JM: You ran for more than 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns at Oklahoma in your three years as a Sooner. You decided to head to Ohio State as a grad transfer for the 2020 season. It eventually worked out for you, but it took some patience, perseverance, and as you’ve said in some instances, more urgency on your part. How do you look back on your lone season at Ohio State?
TS: I was looking for a better opportunity and I felt like Ohio State would be a good place for me. I knew it would be a good fit from a scheme perspective. I fit well into the system they run there.
They recruited me out of high school. I already had a good relationship with running backs coach Tony Alford. We picked up where we left off. Justin [Fields] and I already had a bunch of chemistry. We have the same trainer. We’ve been working with each other since high school.
I just knew it would be a good fit and a better opportunity for me.
JM: You’ve had to fight and battle for carries everywhere you’ve been. You’ve played alongside some talented running backs. We don’t see many bellcows in the NFL nowadays. Sharing carries is a common theme in today’s game. How do you think those experiences will serve you well at the next level?
TS: I’m definitely prepared for it. I’ve been splitting carries my entire career. I’m used to competing with great running backs. Competition is a good thing. We can complement one another and make each other better.
You said it. A lot of teams are transitioning to a timeshare at the next level. I’m very prepared for it. My previous experiences will help me out in the long run.
JM: You had 331 total yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and 191 yards against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Those were two big team wins and you were incredible in both of them. What was it like being in the zone for those games?
TS: It was a great feeling. Everything was just clicking for me. The game felt slow to me. I was in the zone. It allowed me to play fast. I feel like I was very well prepared for those games. I anticipated more often than I reacted. It allowed me to play at a high level. It was such a good feeling to help my team win both of those games.
JM: Earlier you mentioned that Justin Fields and yourself have the same trainer. You’re referring to Charles “Tuna” Burhanan, who has been more than just a trainer for you. What kind of impact has he had on your life?
TS: He’s a great person. He’s had a huge impact on me ever since I started working with him during my junior year of high school. He’s constantly motivating me. He’s coached me to become a better player and person. He pushes me past my limits. He’s been keeping a watchful eye over me since high school.
He always saw my true potential. Having a great person on your side that’s constantly pushing you to be better, he’s a great person to have in my corner. He’s always setting high standards high for me. He’s always uplifting me. He’s a great person to have in my corner.
JM: We love to hear that. How are you finding this process so far? You’ve had quite a bit of time now to train and get ready for this moment.
TS: The process is going well. I’m enjoying it. I’m taking things day by day. I’ve been working and training hard. I have a lot of terrific people in my corner that are pushing me to the limit. We’re competing and trying to get better. It’s been a lot of fun.
I’m enjoying speaking with NFL teams. I’m really just embracing the process. I can’t wait to find out where I’ll end up.
JM: I bet. When I turn the tape on, I see an incredibly physical runner that plays and runs with excellent contact balance. You rarely get tackled by the first defender. How did you develop these aspects of your game?
TS: I’m always working on having quick feet. Being able to move and have great body control is very important. When I work with my other trainer, The Footwork King, that’s one thing that he preaches. He’s always talking about having the right body control. We work on getting in and out of cuts effectively.
I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better throughout the past couple of months. I can’t wait to play football again.
This past season, I did a better job of staying on my feet while running hard. I ran through contact. I did a better job keeping my balance.
JM: You talked about how well you fit the system at Ohio State. That was a big reason you decided to transfer there. Do you have a favorite concept or play to run?
TS: It would have to be between counter and outside zone. I ran a ton of counter at Oklahoma. That was my favorite play. We ran a lot of outside zone at Ohio State. I would have a tough time deciding between those two, but those are definitely my top two right there.
JM: Which running backs did you admire growing up? Do you model your game after anybody in particular?
TS: There’s actually a few. Alvin Kamara is one of them. The way he weaves through the defense, it’s incredible to watch. He plays with great contact balance. Le’Veon Bell has a great ability to run routes, catch, and make guys miss. Ezekiel Elliott runs so hard. He’s so physical and explosive. Those are three guys that I’ve been watching since high school.
JM: Because you mentioned Zeke, I want to talk about the legacy of the running back position at Ohio State. You’ve had guys like Eddie George. We can go back to the 1970s and talk about Archie Griffin. I know you were only there for a season, but did you feel any sort of pressure or responsibility to be the next great RB to come through Columbus?
TS: I definitely felt it. You said it. There have been so many great running backs to come through Ohio State. They set the standard pretty high. You didn’t mention J.K. Dobbins, but he’s another one. He had three incredible years there.
With me deciding to attend Ohio State, it was only right for me to try to continue that tradition. I wanted to play at a high level and help Ohio State win football games. Toward the end of the season, I was able to start doing that.
JM: You absolutely did. What’s it like playing for coach Ryan Day?
TS: It’s great. He’s a real player’s coach. He connects well with everybody. It doesn’t matter if you played on offense or defense, coach Day had a great relationship with you. It didn’t matter who it was. He just knows how to get along with everybody. I knew he was a great person and coach from the first time I met him.
He has an unbelievable ability to break things down, make them simple and help you grow as a player. He’s a great coach and person. I really enjoyed my time with him.
JM: We love hearing that. We’ve seen a lot of testing numbers on social media as of late. Have you gone through something like a mock combine as of late, and if so, what were some of the numbers?
TS: I haven’t really done any testing of that nature yet [editor’s note: interview was completed on March 4]. We’ve been working on my technique. With the way I’ve been working and how much progress I’ve seen, my testing numbers should be pretty great all across the board.
JM: You mentioned that you’ve really enjoyed speaking with NFL teams. How is that process going for you, and which teams have you met with so far?
TS: The process is going well. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and talk with the teams. We’re talking football. It’s been great. I’ve spoken to a couple of teams, but I have to keep them private at this time. I’ve been having some great conversations with scouts and coaches. I met with all 32 teams at the Senior Bowl as well. I’m enjoying this moment.
JM: I think it’s safe to say that you think Justin Fields is the best QB in this draft. Why is that the case?
TS: He’s the best quarterback in this draft because he’s so dynamic. He’s incredibly accurate. He has a strong arm. He’s a great leader. He leads by example. He’s a vocal leader too. He knows how to get guys going. He’s a playmaker at the end of the day.
In regards to how dynamic he is, turn the tape on. You’ll see him running downfield to help make a block. He can run down the sidelines and score a touchdown with his legs. He can make a guy miss. He does things with his legs that a running back can do.
He’s so accurate. He throws guys open. He has incredible ball placement. All of these things I’m saying, he showed it throughout his time at Ohio State. He’s a great quarterback. He’s definitely the best quarterback in this draft.
JM: That’s a ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one. We’ve talked about how physical you are and how you run the ball with great contact balance. What do you think is a strength of your game that doesn’t get talked about enough?
TS: My receiving ability. Ever since my Oklahoma days, I can come out of the backfield and catch the ball. You see me making plays down the field in the receiving game. I can catch the ball at its highest point. I’ve done it before.
I played on two teams in college that had so many amazing receivers that we didn’t have to shine a bunch of light on my ability to catch the ball. That’s why the numbers weren’t as high as they could have been. I’ve shown that I’m a great receiver. I catch it naturally with my hands. I’m comfortable and consistent with it. I’ve shown it on tape, but I don’t feel like that part of my game gets enough recognition.
JM: That’s a great answer. I’ve really appreciated your time today. I feel like you’ve given me an opportunity to really shine a light and prove to people why you’re one of the best running backs in this draft.
In closing, you’ve had quite the journey. You and your family have been through so much adversity but you always manage to overcome life’s difficulties. It’s been well documented. What is it about your strong nature that keeps you fighting through these challenges?
TS: My mother is the one that really motivates me and keeps me going. She’s my motivation. The way she’s taken care of our family, seeing how she persevered through all of her adversity is what keeps me going. It lets me know that I can get through anything as long as I keep the right mindset.
No matter what challenges I face, I know that I can get through them because I’m stronger than that. As long as I stay positive and keep working, I can overcome anything.