CHICAGO – Ohio State’s 2013 recruiting class has been a gift that has kept on giving into a fifth year, which has not always been the case at OSU.
Seven fifth-year seniors from that 2013 group of recruits are still in leadership roles on and off the field. It is at least a little unusual for Ohio State to keep that many talented players so deep into their college careers.
In 2016, Eli Apple, Von Bell, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Darron Lee and Jalin Marshall left early for the NFL from the 2013 class. This year, Gareon Conley joined them.
The seven who have stayed are quarterback J.T. Barrett, offensive lineman Billy Price, defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis, Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill, linebacker Chris Worley and tight end Marcus Baugh.
“I was fortunate to be part of one of the best classes college football history has ever seen,” Worley said.
“Everyone has their own journey and there’s no right or wrong answer to how someone’s journey should be,” he said. “It’s all about how that person is.
“It’s crazy. J.T. was starting his red-shirt freshman year and tearing it up and then he got hurt and it was just the way it was. He’s a better player and a better person from that experience.
“Everyone has their own journey but everyone’s journey is unique to themselves. There’s a reason for everything and all the fifth-year seniors, we’re more than excited,” Worley said.
Lewis, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year last season, said he wrestled with the decision whether to go into the NFL draft this year or return for a fifth season.
“It was a tough decision. My family background is not the best. It was a life-changing opportunity but the place I’m at is a life-changing opportunity as well. It was just a difficult moment,” he said.
“I had to think about it and talk it over several times and go through the process in my head. Every day, a million times somebody was asking me, ‘What are you going to do?’ There was just a lot that went into it.
“It was more so about unfinished business on the field but football wasn’t the main thing. It was about my family and my life.”
Price said, “I don’t regret coming back at all. With that age comes wisdom and experience that I would love to tell to my freshman self, my sophomore self, whatever. It is kind of weird being the old guy in the room. I’ve been through a lot at Ohio State. I’ve been through different coaches, different position coaches and cultures.
“I’ve been through the highest of the highs with a national championship, and the lowest of the lows with being embarrassed. We (the seven fifth-year players) have a bond that can’t be broken,” he said.
With age and experience also comes the expectation that those players will be leaders.
Worley said Meyer emphasized that expectation to Lewis and him on the night the Buckeyes lost 31-0 to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Eve.
“He pulled us aside and it was a grown man conversation. It’s easy to be a leader when everything is fine. But it takes a little bit extra when it’s games like that. He said it’s time to be a leader now,” Worley said.
Lewis said he and the other fifth-year players began to pay more attention to their leadership roles after the loss at Penn State last season.
“We had to step up and take ownership and be more accountable for our actions after that. Leaders had to be much more accountable. We needed to re-evaluate ourselves. No more phoniness. Guys had to step up because we weren’t supposed to let stuff like that happen to us,” he said.
While OSU’s seven long-time players take their leadership role seriously, they don’t take themselves overly seriously.
When a reporter referred to Lewis as “an old-timer” at the Big Ten Media Days on Monday, he said, “ “I’m still young, man. Come on. I’m still young. I can’t say I’m an old-timer but I’ve been around. I still can lead the team the best way I can.”
Ohio State’s players are wearing plastic wrist bands that say “One strong” on the outside and “Mind. Heart. Body” on the inside.
OSU knows what it has with its fifth-year players. It hopes it has something great with a 2017 recruiting class that was ranked with the best in the country. The rest of the team could hold the key to the season, Worley said.
“We do have a bunch of older guys returning and a lot of young guys who are coming in who look like they’re destined to be great. So it’s like once we can figure out the middle part of our team and figure out what type of people they are, it’s just going to build up,” he said.
CHICAGO – Urban Meyer doesn’t dwell on a 31-0 loss to Clemson in a semifinal of the College Football Playoff last season. But he hasn’t forgotten it, either.
At one point during the first day of Big Ten Football Media Days on July 24, the Ohio State coach said that was in the past. But later in the day, he revisited it and acknowledged it was tough to take.
Not only was it unexpected. It also was the first time one of Meyer’s teams had been shut out since he became a college head coach.
“We’ve kind of let that one go. We’ve been known in the past to kind of use different things for motivation. That’s gone, that ship has sailed. We have not addressed it or talked about it,” Meyer said at first.
“Professionally, it changed how we do some business on offense. We’re moving forward. We’re just pushing forward,” he said.
Later he said, “It was awful. I could sugar coat it and tell you something different but it was awful. It forces you to re-evaluate everything you do and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
That re-evaluation led to two coaching changes. Ed Warinner was out as offensive coordinator and Tim Beck did not return as quarterbacks coach, and Kevin Wilson was in as offensive coordinator and Ryan Day came aboard as quarterbacks coach.
“Kevin Wilson is the first established offensive coordinator I’ve ever hired. This is a veteran coach who has led some of the top offenses in America so he has had a lot of input in our offense,” Meyer said.
“Ryan Day is a star in coaching. His relationship with J.T. and the rest of the quarterbacks is very strong. It’s still going to be the Ohio State offense. We had some weaknesses a year ago, I’d like to see some improvement,” he said.
Day was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers who became available when Chip Kelly was fired as the 49ers coach. Wilson resigned as Indiana’s head coach in December.
“Ryan Day is a guy I tried to get before but he wasn’t available. Kevin Wilson, I didn’t anticipate that one but I admired his ability from afar. The timing worked out pretty good,” Meyer said.
Meyer didn’t point fingers at the former assistant coaches and both are employed by successful football programs now – Warinner at Minnesota and Beck at Texas.
He did indicate quarterback J.T. Barrett took too much heat for last year’s inconsistent offense, though.
“JT Barrett broke a bunch of records as a (red-shirt) freshman. That’s because the receivers were outstanding. We struggled at times last year because our offensive line was not up to speed, our tight ends were not good and our receivers weren’t playing up to potential. So the quarterback takes the hit,” Meyer said.
Some other thoughts from Meyer:
Right guard is the only position open on the offensive line and as many as seven players are competing for that spot.
Matthew Burrell, Malcolm Pridgeon, Branden Bowen, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford are among the players Meyer mentioned who are in the running for this position.
The starting positions at wide receiver and tight end are “wide open,” Meyer said.
“Tight end is wide open. It was not one of our strengths a year ago. To me, the wide receiver position is wide open. We were not where we needed to be a year ago,” he said.
Junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield, who began his college career at Alabama, will push for playing time at cornerback.
Meyer thinks the Big Ten is more respected now than when he was hired at Ohio State.
“I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest (divisions) in the country and I think the Big Ten East now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East. Recruiting in 2012 I was shocked at the disrespect the Big Ten had. I don’t feel that at all anymore. I feel a great amount of respect nationally for the Big Ten,” he said.
He thinks Cincinnati and Luke Fickell were a good fit for each other.
“I think it’s the right job for him at the right time,” Meyer said about the long-time OSU defensive coordinator.
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