O’Shaan Allison laughed as he stood at the 30-yard line inside Walter Fieldhouse and remembered where he was a year ago as a true freshman during his first practice with Ohio.
It felt as if it was 100 degrees on the turf at Peden Stadium. Allison didn’t know where he was supposed to go next in individual drills. Coaches and players yelled at him. The running back was on the bottom of the depth chart, and he knew it.
“Oh man, I remember that one,” Allison said as he shook his head. “Everything just seemed like it was thrown at you in a second. I didn't know what was going on, honestly.”
Allison felt the culture shock in the transition from high school football at Malvern Prep High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, to college football under coach Frank Solich. Players who begin a career similar to Allison — lost, confused and uncomfortable — are longshots to see the field in their first year or two of college.
That won’t be the case for Allison. He’s as comfortable as he’s ever been in his second year with the Bobcats and is in line to receive plenty of snaps as a redshirt freshman. He could build a case for the starting running back position if he bulldozes and jukes opponents the same way he did against teammates in spring and fall camp.
Ohio will test several running backs in its first game against Rhode Island on Saturday. The Bobcats have seven running backs on their roster, and almost all of them could rotate handoffs in Week 1. Allison will likely be a part of that rotation after he showcased his explosiveness to coaches in first team reps after Julian Ross, the most experienced running back on Ohio, missed spring camp with an injury.
Allison, however, felt ready for a first-team role midway through last season. Just two months after that dreadful first practice at Peden Stadium, he received his first carry during a blowout against Western Michigan. It was only a four-yard pickup, but Allison felt at ease as soon as he lined up in the backfield for his first collegiate snap.
With the mental reps out of the way, Allison went to work on how he could compete for more snaps in his second year. He needed to become stronger in pass protection, which he never really grasped in high school, so he studied film in the offseason to learn how to position himself to pick up the right blocker on each play.
Those improvements placed Allison in position to receive first-team reps when he returned for his second year, and now he’s nearly completed a long trek to the top of the depth chart.
He’s not an official starter yet, but he’ll likely be a key piece of Ohio’s offense, and he’s plenty content with that.
“I'm not worried about that,” Allison said. “As long as I can contribute to winning games and winning that MAC Championship, it doesn't matter who's starting. I want to see everyone eat.”
Allison is eager to prove that his size won’t define him, either. He’s one of the smallest players on the team at 5-feet, 10 inches tall, but his 205-pound frame can still deliver a punch powerful enough to drive through linebackers.
He thinks defenders will always underestimate his ability because of his size. His shiftiness and trucking ability, however, is as good as any running back on Ohio.
“They think I'm just a little bowling ball that runs straight, and that's what surprises them,” Allison said. “When someone looks at me, they think I only run straight. I definitely make people miss."
Allison will have his first shot at showcasing those skills Saturday against the Rams. His path to the top of the depth chart isn’t finished yet, but his confidence can’t be questioned.
His comfortableness can’t be, either, and now it’s time for Allison to prove his worth.