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With the Past Behind Him, Gareon Conley is Ready to be a Starting Buckeye Cornerback
By Patrick Murphy
Gareon Conley is looking to rebound from a tough start last year as an OSU starter now.
Photo by Jim Davidson

COLUMBUS — It’s a question that gets asked every year in college football: how does a program replace departed talent and maintain success?

Ohio State is fortunate. The defending national champions don’t have many holes in their depth chart, as the Buckeyes were a rather young team in 2014. But one gap that must be filled is at cornerback following the departure of Doran Grant.

“The loss of Doran is huge,” redshirt sophomore cornerback Eli Apple said this week during Fall Camp. “I mean you lose a leader, you lose a guy that’s had great experience and a great locker room guy, a great veteran. So I mean it’s just up to us as a secondary to find somebody who can replace him.”

Grant was a two-year starter and was voted a captain by his teammates his senior year. He was named First Team All-Big Ten in 2014 after finishing second on the team and sixth in the conference with five interceptions.

Apple, who started 14 games a year ago and finished in the top 10 in tackles for the Scarlet and Gray, will move to Grant’s position. But the Buckeyes need someone to fill Apple’s shoes and that responsibility will fall to Gareon Conley.

Corner, it's Gareon and Eli are the starting corners,” head coach Urban Meyer announced at Ohio State’s Media Day.

OSU's 2015 starting cornerbacks
Photo by Jim Davidson

Conley fits the mold of an Ohio State cornerback. Just like Grant and Apple, Conley was a highly-recruited prospect out of high school as the number one player in Ohio according to ESPN. His size, aggression, and athleticism made the game come a little easier for him.

He’s long, he’s fast, he’s tough, he’s disciplined, he’s competitive,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of Conley. “He plays the ball in the air extremely well. He puts his foot in the ground and changes direction. He’s not afraid to play man-to-man and play man-to-man all day long.”

In the spring, Conley was in a battle with redshirt freshman Damon Webb for the starting spot, but Conley impressed enough to earn the job.

Despite being a first-year starter, Conley has experience. He played 160 snaps at cornerback a year ago, including one starting appearance. It is that one start that he would like to forget.

In the biggest game of the regular season for OSU, Conley was thrown into the fire at Michigan State, replacing the injured Apple from the start. The Spartans took advantage, targeting Conley on their second offensive play and connecting for a 44-yard pass. On the same drive, quarterback Connor Cook went after Conley again and the cornerback missed a tackle on a swing pass, conceding the opening touchdown.

After warming up his injured hamstring, Apple was inserted into the game and Conley’s confidence was shaken. The redshirt freshman could have dropped his head and gotten lost in the shuffle, but instead he decided to improve.

He’s responded the best way anybody could have responded in a situation like that,” Apple said of Conley. “He’s just been working. He’s really gotten into the weight room and he’s been doing some big things as far as getting his strength up and all that stuff. So he’s really been taking a great work ethic ever since that day.”

This response from Conley is what the coaches saw and a major reason he earned the starting position in Fall Camp. What faith might have been lost on that one drive was restored by the work Conley did to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“I’m extremely confident,” Coombs said on Tuesday of Conley. “Extremely confident. So is he. He will play well. He will play well.”

On an Ohio State defense that wants to continue the success from the end of last season, Conley will need to be ready week one. The good news is, Conley is tested every day against the Buckeyes’ offense, which is one of the best in the country and should have him prepared for anything he’ll see this season.

“There’s no doubt about it because until you make those plays, you’re not the guy,” Coombs said.

“So you’ve got to go out here – the good news is that he’s already gone against as good a group of receivers as he’s going to see all year long and he’s tested every day. That builds your confidence because he’s playing very, very well.”

Player profiles relevant to story:
8 - Conley, Gareon | Coach - Coombs, Kerry
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