When the 24 members of Ohio State's 2013 recruiting class report for their first collegiate practice this year, their helmets won't be adorned with the iconic, yet familiar, circle buckeye stickers.
Instead, the only decoration for their helmet will come in the form of a single strip of black tape that stretches down the center of their head gear.
In a new tradition that head coach Urban Meyer established last year, all freshmen football players start their career with that black stripe on their helmet. It can only be removed by a veteran member of the team, and only after the young player proves himself worthy on the field.
"It's a rite of passage to become an Ohio State Buckeye," Meyer explained, according to the Toledo Blade. "You have to earn it."
Five of Ohio State's 24 scholarship freshmen graduated high school early to take part in the university's spring semester, and additionally, the Buckeyes' spring practice. Those five players will have an early opportunity to shed their black stripe.
Two of the five freshmen who reported early—Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows—could be competing for much more.
After deciding against an early jump to the NFL, redshirt junior Bradley Roby gives Ohio State one known quantity at cornerback. Roby was third on the team with 63 tackles and shared the league lead in passes defended with 19 in 2012.
Outside of Roby, though, there are a lot of question marks.
Logic would suggest that Doran Grant, a sparsely used nickelback in 2012, would step in and fill the hole left by senior cornerback Travis Howard. But Grant struggled in that role last season, and if he fails to make strides during spring and fall camp, Meyer will have no one with any real game experience to fall back on.
That's why Apple and Burrows have a golden opportunity in front of them. With the advantage of enrolling early and taking part in spring practice, the pair can make an early impression on a coach who isn't afraid to play young guys if the talent is there.
“Really, we don’t redshirt here at Ohio State,” Meyer said recently, according to The Lantern, Ohio State's school newspaper. “We want to go recruit guys that are ready to go jump in the fire and want to go play as soon as they can.”
For Apple and Burrows, the top priority will be earning the trust of the veteran players and getting their black stripe removed.
After that, the two will be competing with Grant, Adam Griffin and Armani Reeves (among other inexperienced underclassmen) for playing time this fall.
David is the lead Ohio State football writer for B/R. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.