Sermon arrived in Columbus in the spring with an interesting resume.
The 2017 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year ran for 2,076 yards and 22 touchdowns in three seasons in Oklahoma despite a knee injury cutting short his 2019 season.
With his degree in hand, he had the option of returning to Oklahoma to compete for playing time, taking his chances with the NFL draft process or finding somewhere else to finish his career knowing he could play right away as a graduate transfer.
He settled on the Ohio State, where a spring knee injury to Master Teague created a void at a position vacated when 2,000-yard back J.K. Dobbins entered the draft with a year of eligibility remaining.
“This is a big time program, and I mean there are always great running backs coming through here such as J.K. and Zeke (Elliott),” Sermon said. “So it was a good opportunity once I found out there was an opening I just wanted to take advantage of it and be a part of this team.”
The decision took an unexpected twist when the coronavirus pandemic caused the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors to postpone fall sports even as Sermon’s old team was set to play on this fall in the Big 12.
He confirmed that was frustrating but kept the faith all would work out.
“It was really tough. My mindset at the time was I just have to focus on just getting better,” Sermon said. “I had to stay ready because once the opportunity does come to play, I don’t want to be behind.”
A four-star prospect from Marietta, Ga., Sermon was rated the No. 12 running back in the country 2017.
He considered Ohio State back then but ultimately chose Oklahoma, where he played right away and even caught a touchdown pass against the Buckeyes in the Sooners' 31-16 win at Ohio Stadium his freshman season.
Back on the market this past winter, he re-established a relationship with Alford forged during his high school days.
Ohio State Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford talks about his players
“He started recruiting me out of high school,” Sermon said. "Although I went to Oklahoma and I had my years there, I remember after we played them we talked a little bit after the game and he was just checking into how I was doing so it’s like now once we got to this point he picked up where we left off.
“It was just unique because coach Alford is such a genuine guy and all the players he comes in contact with he really cares about, and I feel like that was just the thing that stuck out the most.”
Their relationship was also important in keeping Sermon focused and upbeat during the uncertainty of the offseason derailed by COVID-19 and extended by conference leadership.
“It was long conversations that I had with he and his mother, and they were numerous,” Alford said. "Because he was frustrated. Kid just wanted to play, much like our other guys, but he stayed the course and he didn’t waver.
“He said, ‘Hey, you know I can only do what I can do and only handle the things right there in front of me.’ We told him just keep having faith and this thing’s gonna work out — as we did all of our players — and just keep learning this offense, keep grinding. Stay positive.”
Despite the need for another veteran in the room, the Buckeyes weren’t going to take just any running back.
Alford said they settled on Sermon after doing some homework.
“We’d be lying if we said we didn’t (study all his film) from freshman year all the way through to his injury. You saw a guy we thought was tough. We saw a guy that we thought had the ability to make plays, and he did. ”
Alford also relied on what he had learned about Sermon personally during his recruitment and received an endorsement from the Oklahoma staff.
“They had nothing but rave reviews about him in the way prepared,” Alford said. “A team guy. His work ethic was impeccable, so all the things that we were looking for, to fit our room, he showed.”