INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Hafley and Jordan Fuller first crossed paths nine years ago inside the Norwood Public School gymnasium in their native New Jersey.
Then a football coach at Rutgers, Hafley was recruiting Devin Fuller, Jordan's older brother, when a sixth grader caught his eye — and captured his imagination — on the basketball court.
"I was with Old Tappan coach Brian Dunn, who coached me in high school, and one of the visits with Devin was at a middle school basketball game, and that's when I saw Jordan actually playing," Hafley, now the head coach at Boston College, recalled by phone for the Bergen Record.
"I think he was in the sixth grade, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, who's this kid,' not realizing it was Devin's little brother right away, and I said that wherever I am, I'm gonna offer him a scholarship one day. So I went to the NFL [to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Greg Schiano in 2012], and seven years later I eventually go back to college at Ohio State, one of the first guys I get to coach is that little sixth grader who turned into a giant, a great guy and a heck of a player who is getting ready to play on Sundays."
Fuller is one of the top safety prospects here at the Combine, and he's eager to show why the 22-year-old from Norwood was considered the glue of the Ohio State defense.
Two of the Top 4 players selected in April's NFL Draft could be Buckeyes, with defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah widely projected as the best players at their respective positions in the Class of 2020.
But talk to those around Ohio State, including Hafley — who served as defensive coordinator this past season — and Okudah, and they'll try to convince you that one of the best units in the country would not have been the same without Fuller.
"We call him Captain Fuller, quarterback of the defense," Okudah told the Bergen Record on Friday morning. "Our defense, it doesn't go without him. He's the one making the constant checks. Before the play, he'll alert me to what's coming, be on the look out for this, and usually it's true. So, without Captain Fuller, we're not the 'Silver Bullets' defense."
Fuller has studied video of All-Pros Earl Thomas, Eddie Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu, patterning his game after those who play the position the way he believes he can.
Of Hafley's presence at Ohio State, Fuller said: "He taught me formations, what exactly to look at on film, and he let me be me."
To find out exactly who that is, look no further than Fuller's family ties.
Devin played wide receiver for UCLA and played two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before injuries took their toll. His father, Bart, played safety in college for TCU, and his mother, Cindy Mizelle, is very comfortable on the biggest stages out there having spent time singing backup for a long list of legendary performers that includes Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross.
"I'm definitely doing all this for my family," Fuller said.
In high school, Fuller was the threat on offense for NV/Old Tappan with 1,822 yards of total offense as a running back, quarterback and kick returner. He also intercepted six passes on defense, helping the Golden Knights to their first 12-0 season and first sectional title since 1985 as a senior four years ago..
The success continued at Ohio State, where the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder emerged as just the 14th two-time captain in the decorated history of Buckeye football.
"Big, strong and he's just one of the smartest players I've ever been around, and I'd say that applies to any level I have coached. How quickly he's able to see things, pick things up, communicate, how hard he works," Hafley said. "I was up in the booth for the season so I could see everything and get the calls in, and Jordan was on the field, so between every series, I'd give him the head set and I'd go over the adjustments with him, and he'd go over all of it with the DBs. I'd ask him what he sees, I'd tell him what I'd see, and it was like having a coach out there.
“Jordan's the type of guy, he's going to let your DB coach sleep well at night. He's gonna be in the right spot. He's gonna get you into the right defense. He's such a good open field tackler and he's just always in the right spot. Of all those great players out on the field for us last season, Jordan's the one that, we said, 'Man, if this kid goes down, we're not gonna be the same defense,' and that's all the intangibles and how in control he was back there."
Asked Friday to pitch himself to NFL teams, Fuller said: "I would say they're getting a leader, and they're getting someone who is always gonna be in the right spot at the right time. That's what I pride myself on, and I'm a versatile guy that you can plug in a bunch of different places and he's gonna get the job done at a high level."
Fuller's draft value at the moment could see him land anywhere from the third to sixth rounds, but his stock is expected to rise as teams continue their evaluation and he wins them over as anticipated in private meetings.
One of those teams that has expressed interest is the Giants, who are scheduled to meet with Fuller for a formal interview here Saturday.
“That would be great,” Fuller said, flashing a wide smile. “I mean, just being, shoot, like 30 minutes from where I grew up, it would be really, really special, being able to see my family often. I’m just used to that area, that Jersey grit, I like being around it.”
At this point, Fuller has one goal between now and the draft.
"I'm going to surprise some people," Fuller added. "And when you get to this level, there's nothing better than that."