McCalister joins Knowles at Ohio State with championship ambitions

Ohio State graduate safety Tanner McCalister speaks to the media February 2 at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center. Credit: Jacob Benge | Assistant Sports Editor

For graduate safety Tanner McCalister, playing under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is nothing new.

A transfer from Oklahoma State, McCalister began the last two years under Knowles, learning and running the system from the then-Cowboys defensive coordinator. When he entered the transfer portal, Knowles was one of the first to reach out and eventually welcome him to Ohio State.

“I was comfortable in his system,” McCalister said. “Initially my decision was that I was going to declare myself for the draft, but I feel like one more year in college could help me develop.”

The Rockwall, Texas native said he felt like he could coach his new teammates since he had experience with Knowles, which helped his transition to Ohio State.

“I’m looking forward to helping the guys out this way, and they’ve already started asking me about Coach Knowles and the defense,” McCalister said. “I’ve already formed a good relationship with the guys on the defensive end, in particular.”

McCalister said one of the main reasons he transferred to Ohio State was because he wanted to win a national championship.

“It was something we were about to do at Oklahoma State,” McCalister said. “We were one game short of getting into the college football playoffs. Being here, I think we can really have a shot at winning the national championship, so I’m looking forward to starting with the guys in the spring.

McCalister added that Knowles is really smart, partly coming from his Ivy League background – graduating from Cornell in 1987.

“You have to have brains to be in the Ivy League,” McCalister said. “He’s really deliberate in what he wants to do.”

In his two years as a starter, McCalister recorded 61 solo tackles and one interception. In what he described as a “multipurpose security room”, which includes senior Josh Proctor, junior Lathan Ransom, redshirt junior Ronnie Hickman and redshirt second Cameron Martinez, McCalister will have to find his place in Training.

“I know I can’t come here and immediately get respect,” McCalister said. “I work in the weight room with these guys. I have to let them know I’m serious about being here.

McCalister said he wanted to take on a leadership role and needed to “earn those stripes”, and Knowles said he was confident in McCalister’s leadership abilities.

“We’ve been through wars together,” Knowles said. “He understands me. He can talk to other guys if I make noise. I can be aggressive when I train.

Knowles added that McCalister has already been a role model on defense and sets the team up for what Knowles will set. Most notably, Knowles said McCalister was “invaluable” to the defense because of his prior knowledge.

“He can explain defense to them in a way that coaches can’t or someone my age can’t,” Knowles said.

As McCalister enters the revamped secondary at Ohio State, he said his focus is on improvement in the offseason.

“It’s one of the most important parts of the college football season,” McCalister said. “I have to give 100% every day and control what I can control.”

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