August 15, 2012

Whirlwind year lands Decker in position battle

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The most advanced offensive freshman on the Ohio State roster didn't even have a scholarship offer to play for the Buckeyes a year ago.

On Tuesday, Taylor Decker became the first freshman on the offensive side of the ball to lose his black stripe under first-year Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Having the black piece of electrical tape removed from his helmet by 'big brother' Jack Mewhort signified Decker "officially" becoming a member of the Buckeyes, which is even more impressive when you consider where he was a year ago.

A lifelong Ohio State fan, Decker was raised in Vandalia, Ohio, where he grew to be a four-star right tackle prospect at Butler high school. Of the many major college programs knocking on his door with scholarship offers, Ohio State was not one of them.

Without an offer from former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel or interim coach Luke Fickell's staffs, Decker committed to Notre Dame to play for head coach Brian Kelly and his offensive line coach Ed Warinner. But then a change happened at Decker's favorite team.

Ohio State hired Meyer as its head coach on Nov. 29, 2011, and soon after, the new Buckeyes coach hired Warinner to coach the same position group that he did at Notre Dame. Not long after, Decker finally had the scholarship offer from Ohio State that he had always coveted.

"Once Coach Meyer got the job, they started recruiting me."

The 6-foot-8, 313-pound tackle initially remained committed to play for the Fighting Irish, but officially switched his college commitment to Ohio State on Jan. 15 of this year.

"I grew up in Ohio, I'm an Ohio kid, I always wanted to come to Ohio State," Decker said. "So given that opportunity, Coach Meyer came in and gave me that opportunity to come here, it was great for me."

Thanks to Ohio State's quarter system during the academic school year, Decker was able to graduate early and enroll for his freshman year of college in March.

The head start appears to have paid off for Decker, who now finds him in a position battle with Reid Fragel to start at right tackle for the Buckeyes when they take the field against Miami (OH). The true freshman credits his accelerated advancement to the help that he's received from his fellow offensive linemen, namely Mewhort.

"Jack has probably helped me the most of anybody since I first got here. I was happy to encounter that coming here, having guys that are older helping me out, 'cause he's played and he's experienced," Decker said. "Learning all the offense, compared to what you have to learn in high school was a big challenge, so he's helped me a lot with that."

The relationship between the pupil and the mentor was strengthened on Tuesday when Mewhort removed the black stripe from Decker's helmet. As a lifelong Buckeye fan, the significance of being officially recognized as a member of the team hasn't been lost on Decker.

"Once you prove yourself as being a true Buckeye, kind of earn your spot on the team, you get your stripe removed, and your big brother will peel it off for you," Decker said "It's kind of a cool little thing. You're officially a part of the team."

The removal of Decker's stripe shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, considering that he is neck and neck with the senior Fragel. Both players have received snaps with the first team offense in fall camp, although Meyer has acknowledged that there's more that he'd like to see from the position battle.

"It's not a battle of all-Big Tens yet," Meyer said. "They're trying hard, they're talented guys, they're great people. But our production at right tackle is not where it needs to be right now."

Regardless of how the right tackle spot is shaping up, the fact that Decker is in a position to potentially see playing time at in Ohio State as a true freshman is an opportunity that he is trying to make the most of. Especially considering that it didn't seem likely less than a year ago.

"I'm truly blessed with this opportunity to play here. Coming in, did I think that I was going to be able to compete like that? Honestly, no," Decker said. "I'm happy that I've been able to take advantage of the physical tools that I've been given and I've taken advantage of learning the offense early before I came here. I'm excited for it."


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