The career of running back Trey Sermon has been a roller coaster. The Georgia native was a coveted recruit out of Sprayberry High School when he signed with Oklahoma in 2017. Sermon found immediate success as a freshman and carried that momentum through to his final season in Norman as one of the top draft-eligible running backs.
In 2019, his touches dipped more than 50% as the program introduced Rhamondre Stevenson, Kennedy Brooks and T.J. Pledger to the rotation.
"I have always split carries. Going into my junior year, we had a really good backfield. All of the running backs were pretty good and even adding Jalen [Hurts] in, he was a great runner as well. There weren't many carries to go around between all of us. It was a talented offense," Sermond said of the Sooners. "We had great receivers as well. Over time, it was limited opportunities and then I got hurt later in the season."
A knee injury brought a premature end to his junior season and, as later learned, his Oklahoma career. He entered the transfer portal looking for a fresh start.
"I just wanted a better opportunity. I could have stayed but I felt like it was best for me and my career to move ahead and enter the transfer portal. I chose Ohio State because it is a great program and I am pretty close with Justin [Fields]. I have trained with him since high school so I had a relationship with him. The running backs coach, coach [Tony] Alford, he recruited me out of high school so I always had a relationship with him. I just felt like that was the best place for me. I knew I fit well in the offense as well."
Shortly after Sermon chose the Buckeyes, the world had to face a harsh reality regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As doctors were scrambling to learn short- and long-term side effects of the virus, sports leagues were grinding to a halt. The ACC opted to play while the SEC was on a delay. The Big Ten took a more cautious approach and initially postponed the season. Sermon's final opportunity to showcase his talents was in doubt.
"It was a lot going on at the time. My main thing, I was just trying to stay positive. I never thought about entering the portal again and going to a different college. Once I decided to go to Ohio State, that was it. I talked to coach Alford a bunch and I just stayed positive. He kept getting me ready. Even though it was shut down, I felt like we were going to be able to play. I was just preparing for that and possibly preparing for the NFL if we didn't. I never thought about going to a different school. I was either going to play at Ohio State or that was it."
The Big Ten ultimately decided to proceed with the season and Ohio State took the field for the first time on Oct. 24. After two months, the running back felt as though he was hitting his stride and the statistics validated it. In a three-game stretch against Michigan State, Northwestern and Clemson, Sermon accumulated 636 rushing yards and four touchdowns, including a 331 rushing yard performance against Northwestern in the conference championship game.
"What led to [that breakout] was just being consistent. If you look at each game, I was just getting better and better; just getting more comfortable with the offense and how the offensive line blocks. Due to the fact that we didn't have a regular preseason, that threw off the timing. Talking to coach Alford, he told me even the previous running backs didn't hit their stride until the middle of the season. If you look at our schedule, that was about the same time that I started to hit my stride. I felt like I was getting more comfortable in the offense and by the end of the season, I was able to play at a high level consistently."
Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury early in the national championship game and did not return. Sermon reported that he has been progressing from that injury every day and intends to do a full workout at his Ohio State Pro Day on March 30.
Sermon plans to re-introduce himself as one of the top draft-eligible running backs.
"[My plan is] just to show that I am a good receiving back. I know at Oklahoma, I caught the ball out of the backfield a ton. Even in practice at Ohio State, I caught the ball out of the backfield a ton, lined up at receiver and ran routes. I just want to be able to show that I can do that. It is actually a part of my game. With so much talent on the teams that I have been on, it is hard to really use that tool when you have so many great receivers. I am an athlete. I am a playmaker. I can line up at receiver, run routes and be a mismatch on the linebacker; not a lot of running backs that are my size can do that. I feel like that is one of my abilities that can separate me if I am used right in the right system."
As fans begin to familiarize themselves with the top running back options available in the 2021 NFL Draft, their research will likely lead them to Clemson's Travis Etienne, Alabama's Najee Harris and North Carolina's Javonte Williams. Sermon is not concerning himself with the other players at his position, but instead is choosing to focus on what he can control.
"I don't pay much attention to it because I know I am the best running back. Leading up to the national championship game, everyone was saying, 'Oh, he is the No. 1 back.' So I feel like nothing has changed just because I got hurt on the first play. I am perfectly fine now so that is why I don't pay attention to it. I just work on my craft and try to improve each and every day and focus on everything in front of me."
The Peach State product is not the only athlete being scrutinized in Columbus. Fields' game has been picked apart by draft analysts, but Sermon rushed to his defense.
"Justin is a great quarterback. He is versatile. He is accurate. He can make things out of nothing. He is a great leader as well. I don't know why people are down on him. He is just a great player. He has battled through adversity as well; getting hurt, coming back, completing passes, throwing touchdowns and making plays to help the team succeed," Sermon finished.
Sermon is currently the No. 112 prospect overall, according to CBS Sports, which falls just outside of the third round. He boasts a well-rounded skillset and could be a steal for one lucky team should he be available that late.