PISCATAWAY, N.J. — In Jordan Fuller’s family, excellence is the standard.
The Ohio State safety’s older brother, Devin, was a wide receiver for UCLA, and is now an NFL free agent after spending a season with the Falcons. His father, Bart, played safety for TCU. And his mother, Cindy Mizelle, sang backup for Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, and a long list of other legendary performers.
But at 21, Jordan Fuller has made a mark all on his own, not only as a team captain and defensive playmaker for the No. 2 Buckeyes but also as one of college football’s top students and biggest advocates for sexual-assault and domestic-violence prevention.
Fans who tune into Saturday’s College GameDay matchup between Ohio State (10-0) and Penn State (9-1) will see what the Westwood, N.J., native can do on the field. After the Buckeyes beat Rutgers, 56-21, last week, Fuller and his teammates immediately turned to their preparation for the Big Ten East showdown, which Ohio State enters as an 18-point favorite.
“We definitely want to celebrate this one,” Fuller said Saturday. But "we talked about what we got coming, too.”
As a senior and only the 14th two-time captain in Ohio State football history, Fuller is well-acquainted with what could be coming. He’s experienced three close contests with the Nittany Lions, games that were decided by a total of five points. He’s played an important role in two of those meetings. In last year’s 27-26 Ohio State win at Beaver Stadium, he logged eight tackles, and in the Buckeyes’ 39-38 win in 2017, he recorded nine.
In his senior year, Fuller hasn’t slowed down. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defender has recorded 45 tackles, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions, one of which would’ve been a jaw-dropping 75-yard pick-six had it not been called back on a penalty.
In a recent episode of Big Ten Network’s “The Journey,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Haley called Fuller “one of the more underrated players on our entire football team," which is easy to be when you’re playing alongside the likes of defensive end Chase Young and linebacker Malik Harrison.
Underrated or not, Fuller leads a unit that’s ranked first in the nation in total defense, and has helped his team cruise to a 10-0 record, one he said they’re determined not to add any losses to anytime soon.
“We look at it as a kind of a March Madness-type thing,” Fuller said. “Basically, you got to win every game you play, and if you lose one, it’s not a good thing.”
Doesn’t that mindset bring overwhelming pressure?
No, he said, “that’s what comes with being at Ohio State.”
What doesn’t necessarily come with being a player at Ohio State, or any football powerhouse, are high grades and impressive extracurricular accomplishments. Fuller, however, has excelled in both areas.
With a 3.8 GPA, he won every underclassman academic award, including Academic All-American, and is on track to graduate in December with a business marketing degree.
Fuller was among a group of Ohio State student-athletes who created a seminar called “The Buckeye Way: Sexuality, Identity, and Relationships," which promotes discussion and education about sexual assault and domestic violence. He also has a leadership role in a campus organization called Redefining Athletic Standards, which aims to elevate the voices of black athletes.
For his off-the-field contributions, he’s been nominated for the Jason Witten Man of the Year award, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the William V. Campbell Trophy, which all recognize players with strong moral character and a track record of leadership.
As his national profile grows, Fuller said he never forgets his hometown in Bergen County, North Jersey, or the family who raised him to never settle for just OK.
After the Rutgers game, he got to reunite with them.
“Looking in the stands, seeing some people I know from when I was little, from when I was in high school,” he said, “that support is amazing.”