Damon Arnette could be toiling in relative anonymity at an NFL training camp this August.
Instead he is working on rewriting his story as an Ohio State football player — and doing what he can to help some of his teammates avoid mistakes he’s made along the way.
“Truly I feel like a lot of it with me has been off-field things that reflect on the field,” he said Sunday after Ohio State’s third practice of the preseason. “So once I cleaned up everything, everything else started to shine a little bit more. And other things are being noticed once I got certain things right in my life.”
Asked what that meant, the senior replied, “Just calming down,” a lesson he is trying to pass along to other Buckeyes.
“Once I just realized that playing with fire, you will get burned a lot of different ways, it just ain't worth it,” he said. "So I feel like a part of learning from that stuff is going through certain things and just learning from those mistakes.
“I try to use my experiences to help a lot of young guys now that I'm a senior,” he said. “Just going through some of the certain things that I went through — and just maybe the message should come off a little bit differently than maybe I received it. So I try to just use what I know I rejected and what I accepted to help others.”
Arnette, a three-star recruit coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is already a two-year starter.
He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention from conference coaches last season, when he made 40 tackles and one interception in 13 games.
After the Buckeyes beat Washington in the Rose Bowl, Arnette was ready to try his hand at playing for pay until he talked to incoming Ohio State secondary coach Jeff Hafley upon returning from California.
“I came back to Columbus just really to get my stuff and my dog, but after talking with coach Hafley, just really after one conversation with him I told him mid-conversation I would just stay,” Arnette said.
Hafley, who spent the past seven seasons in the NFL, has revamped Ohio State’s scheme in the secondary, and he is teaching some new coverage techniques players are excited about.
“Just seeing the technique he teaches is what a lot of us do naturally, I would have hated myself if I would have left and saw everybody else doing what we’re doing now and I was somewhere else so I wanted to be a part of that.”
Arnette admitted he also wants to end his career on a better note after an up-and-down 2018.
“The question was if I was the best player I know I can be,” he said. "Did I leave everything out there, and do I regret everything? I couldn’t check all of those boxes so then I was like all right can you live with that? And then I realized, nah, I can’t. I feel like I’m not doing Buckeye nation and my teammates a service if I left on the note, if I would have left last year.”
Of course, head coach Ryan Day viewed Arnette’s return as good news.
He said the staff encouraged Arnette to stay in school and rejoiced when he decided to do so, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
“He also had a bunch of (academic) work to do this spring, and he dug himself out of that hole and got a whole bunch of credits,” Day said.
That hard work in the classroom has already paid off as he received a degree in communications Sunday.
“This is one of those stories that I hope we’re saying at this time next year about how he dug himself out of a hole academically, came around and had a really great senior year because I’m proud of where he’s at,” Day said.
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