Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Which 2022 signee is Ohio State’s best Christmas gift?
Josh’s Take: Sonny Styles
Ryan Day and Ohio State received 17 early Christmas presents on National Signing Day in the form of signees in the 2022 recruiting class. They added an additional stocking stuffer on Friday night, when Central Ohio linebacker Gabe Powers joined them during a special ceremony held post-ESD. There are likely others joining the class, and that could come via high school or the transfer portal. So, Gene, which player will end up being the best gift under the proverbial tree?
I actually think Jim Knowles is the PS5 of this year’s gifts for OSU football, but we’re focused on 2022 recruits here. Knowles should have plenty of interaction with my choice though, so maybe I’m getting the gaming system and the new 2K or Madden to go with it. Ohio State went heavy on linebacker/bullet/safety in this class, and I believe Alex “Sonny” Styles will eventually have the biggest impact from that group.
Styles re-classified late in the year, surprising OSU coaches and fans alike. He should make a hell of a trio with C.J. Hicks and the previously mentioned Powers, but I see Styles as having the most upside. The local product out of Pickerington is the youngest member of the 2022 class, but physically developed well beyond his years. The kid is a big ole freak, if I can quote the great Megan Thee Stallion.
Already 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Styles earned a five-star rating as a safety, but he can play all over the field — which is what I expect him to do for Ohio State. He is clearly comfortable at safety, so if Knowles and Co. want to develop him there, I think he could be a stud in the deep secondary. However, Knowles is known for giving the opposition different looks, and as a result, I expect this second-generation Buckeye to be deployed in a variety of ways.
Styles is accustomed to the safety role, but he also spent time at linebacker in high school — try keeping a kid that size in the secondary on a full-time basis. He would have to show that he can take on blocks and occasionally rush the passer from that position at the next level, but if you’ve watched any of his film, you know he can lay the lumber. He is not afraid to engage in the box, and he brings more than enough physicality to the middle of the field.
I’ve discussed two traditional positions so far, but I think Styles it a genuine hybrid. He cannot be boxed in, Gene! OSU made consistent use of the bullet position in 2021, with Ronnie Hickman playing most of the snaps there. Hickman was the team’s leading tackler, but he’s not exactly The Terminator out there. He is a safety who doesn’t mind playing in the box. His only TFL was his only sack, and as much as I love him, Ronnie is not the most physical presence against the run. Styles could be a super-sized version of what Hickman brought to the field.
If Styles gets to Ohio State and puts on serious weight, he could also see time as the Leo — if that is something Knowles brings with him from Oklahoma State. The Leo is essentially a stand-up pass rusher, and the Buckeyes’ new DC found great success with it in the Big 12. I think we only see it in 2022 if Knowles sees a player capable of filling the role, and that is no guarantee. But I think it will eventually be a major part of the defense. Styles would probably need to put on 30+ pounds and develop pass rushing skills, but we’ve seen Coach Mick work miracles.
I believe Styles is a future star because of his potential versatility: the top safety in the country, with linebacker size, and a defensive end’s frame (long shot on the DE comp, but let me live). The Ohio State defense has lacked a true superstar since Chase Young left Columbus, and Styles might be the gift that keeps on giving. He could play right away for the Buckeyes and dominate for years to come. Maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but I think Sonny Styles was the perfect gift for OSU and their fans.
Gene’s Take: C.J. Hicks
Well Josh, for starters I don’t see how you can pick a player who “cannot be boxed in” as Ohio State’s best Christmas present, since that will probably make it pretty hard to wrap him to put under the tree! (ba-dum tss).
Jokes aside, I think Styles will be a tremendous player for the Buckeyes, and like Josh I think he will see early playing time — even as a kid who would otherwise be playing his senior year of high school football had he not reclassified to 2022. Overall, I think Brutus will be quite happy on Christmas morning when he gets a look at the 18 signees Ryan Day and his staff have brought in during this cycle, and I think there could be some very exciting post-holiday presents on the way before the official National Signing Day. That being said, one guy stands above the rest in my eyes, and that is Captain Buckeye himself, C.J. Hicks.
Before he even steps foot on the field in Columbus, Hicks will almost certainly be a fan favorite. Committing to Ohio State all the way back in May of 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player more devoted and excited to don the Scarlet and Gray. You don’t earn the monicker Captain Buckeye for nothing, and Hicks has certainly earned that distinction as one of the best peer recruiters we’ve seen in program history. Hicks has been incredibly vocal on social media in trying to bring more talent to Ohio State, constantly tweeting at other recruits in hopes to sway them towards the Buckeyes. He was basically another member of the staff on the trail.
And that is all before we even talk about Hicks as a player. A five-star prospect, Hicks comes to Ohio State as the No. 2 linebacker in the country and the No. 12 player overall in the 2022 class as the top recruit in Ohio in this cycle. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, the Archbishop Alter product is potentially one of the best athletes the Buckeyes have had at the position since guys like Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan were wreaking havoc for the Silver Bullets. There is a reason his player comparison on 247Sports, courtesy of national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu, is former Clemson star and current Arizona Cardinal Isaiah Simmons, and it’s because he can do it all.
Despite making his bread as a linebacker, Hicks played all over the field for the Knights. His athleticism is truly off the charts, and his team knew it as they also had him return punts and even play some running back. While he will likely need to add a little weight if he wants to be a full-time linebacker at the next level, he already possesses tremendous coverage skills and is an excellent blitzer as an explosive player with the ability to shoot gaps or come off the edge. Jim Knowles can really have some fun with Hicks at Ohio State, as his wide range of skillsets can make him a dangerous, versatile player who never has to come off the field for the Buckeyes.
The main reason I think Hicks is the star of the class is because of what we have seen at linebacker from Ohio State in recent years. The position group has been a huge letdown for the last two seasons-plus, and as previously mentioned, Hicks is an entirely different class of athlete. Pairing him with guys like Steele Chambers — who will get another full offseason to hone his linebacker skills — and Kourt Williams could fully reshape the middle level of the Buckeyes defense. The addition of Knowles as defensive coordinator as well as the infusion of dynamic players like Hicks and Styles is a really exciting thought, and I think Buckeye fans should be quite pleased with what they received for Christmas as we look ahead to the 2022 season.