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Former Alabama standout on joining Ohio State: 'I believe in this team'

Jan. 30—COLUMBUS -Caleb Downs is an Ohio State Buckeye for a few reasons.

Alabama coach Nick Saban retired, he trusts Ohio State secondary coach Tim Walton, and the star safety wants to win.

"I just love the program here," Downs said Tuesday in his first meeting with the local media after transferring from Alabama earlier this month. "I love Coach Walton and love what people have to say around here. I believe in Coach (Ryan) Day, and I believe in this team."

Downs was a five-star prospect coming out of Mill Creek High School in Georgia last year, and he more than lived up to the billing in his first season with the Crimson Tide.

He not only won a starting safety job on Saban's vaunted defense but ended up becoming the first true freshman to lead Alabama in tackles.

He was the SEC Freshman of the Year, All-SEC first team and a second-team All-American after tallying 107 tackles and intercepting two passes.

He appeared set to be the centerpiece of Alabama's defense for two more years but instead entered the transfer portal after Saban's surprise retirement.

"Him saying that, my heart dropped for sure," Downs said of the team meeting when Saban told the team he had coached his last game. "But at the end of the day, if he felt that's what's best for him, I love him for it. It's what he needed to do."

That opened the door for Ohio State to re-recruit him after narrowly missing the first time around when Downs was in high school.

"They played great defense last year, and just watching the film and seeing how they progressed and how the defense played helped me make a more sound decision of what I was getting into," Downs said.

Walton, who is entering his third season coaching at his alma mater and like Downs grew up in Georgia, was a big factor in Downs deciding on the Buckeyes this time.

"Very genuine person," Downs said. "He always keeps it straight with you. Everything he's said has come to fruition so I can't knock him on anything. He's very close to my pops, too. They grew up together, so just knowing that relationship with him and our relationship together, I trust him."

The Ohio State defense was already shaping up to be one of the best in the country next season after finishing No. 2 in points allowed per game and No. 3 in total defense last season.

Eight starters return, including standout ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau and cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun.

Lathan Ransom, who missed the last third of the season with a foot injury, is also due back at one deep safety, while Sonny Styles and Jordan Hancock split time at the Nickel safety.

That leaves the other deep safety spot as one of the biggest question marks heading into spring practice following the graduation of Josh Proctor.

Downs sidestepped a question about possibly being the final piece to the puzzle — "I can't say that," he replied. "That's for God to decide." — but he did say he looks forward to being part of a great unit.

"I expect us to be one of the best," Downs said. "I expect us to excel and be better than they were last year. I expect us to be elite."