Cody Cousino / Photo editor
The seniors on the Ohio State football team cannot play for championships this year. Not for trophies. Not for banners. So they plan to play for their fellow classmates.
“We’re playing for each other,” said senior defensive end John Simon. “And when you come in here every day and work out with these guys, you really don’t want to let them down.”
The 2012 season will be absent of even a chance to compete for the Big Ten Conference and national championships as a result of the NCAA-imposed bowl ban dating back to December 2011. Former coach Jim Tressel knowingly fielded ineligible players during the 2010 season after six players – former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, former running back Daniel “Boom” Herron, former wide receiver DeVier Posey, former offensive tackle Mike Adams, former defensive end Solomon Thomas and former linebacker Jordan Whiting – traded memorabilia for tattoos, resulting in a vacation of wins for that season, donation of team’s winnings from the 2011 Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas to charity and a ban that will keep the team out of postseason action this fall.
Pressure mounted, and Tressel was eventually forced to resign from his post as Buckeyes coach on May 30, 2011.
Simon recounted the dark moments.
“It was a tough time,” Simon said. “But we’re a new team and we’re doing everything we can to get better.”
Senior players are looking beyond the NCAA-imposed limitations the coming season holds and focusing on the things they can control.
“We’re just focused on our first game of the season,” said senior running back Jordan Hall. “We aren’t focusing on what we can’t do, only on what we can do.”
And the OSU football team will need that focus heading into a season that is sure to face even higher expectations with the addition of new coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer’s arrival has turned into a complete program transformation – from the pre-Spring Game circle drill where players collided with one another to the overhaul of the team’s nutritional strategies – that has made a strong call to senior players to take control of the team.
“Coach Meyer is always talking about leaders,” said senior linebacker Etienne Sabino. “And (we) want to be the leaders of this team.”
And leadership is not limited to the field – Simon said leading begins away from Ohio Stadium and at the indoor practice facility.
“It’s all about coming in and doing extra,” he said. “The senior class is really stepping up into a leadership role … showing the young guys the ropes, reading the playbooks with them, whatever it takes. We’re just trying to have the best offseason possible.”
Meyer and the OSU coaching staff have praised Simon for his role as a “workout warrior,” and said he and his fellow seniors are doing everything they can to either be in the classroom or in the gym.
And the senior players said the extra effort is partially because this season will be the last time they represent the Buckeyes on the field.
“It’s the last time for everything,” Sabino said. “Every time you go out there, it’s your last first day of camp, last Spring Game. You just know it’s your last one.”
And the thought of a final season in a Buckeye uniform is bittersweet for Simon.
“The years go fast,” Simon said. “But I’m just looking forward to winning every game. That’s our goal this year, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Winning is the only thing that will take away the sting from last year’s tumultuous season, said senior tight end Jake Stoneburner.
“We’re out to prove that we’re a better team than we were last year,” he said. “We’ve got something to prove. And for us seniors, we have to play to the best of our ability; you only have so many games left in the ‘Shoe, so you have to make every game count.”
It remains to be seen if Stoneburner will be on the field when the Buckeyes begin the 2012 season as he and redshirt junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort were arrested Saturday morning for allegedly obstructing official business. Sunday, Stoneburner and Mewhort were suspended from the football team until their cases are resolved.
Stoneburner and Mewhort did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment regarding their arrests.
With the 2011 season in mind, Stoneburner said he is still confident that the Buckeyes will be on people’s radar this year.
“We’re always going to be circled on opponents’ schedules. It’s Ohio State,” he said. “No matter what kind of year we had the year before, no matter who’s our coach, quarterback, we’re always going to be circled because it’s Ohio State.”
When the seniors and the rest of the Buckeyes take the field on Sept. 1 this year, Simon said it’s going to be business as usual.
“We’re going to go out there and play for each other and for Buckeye Nation,” Simon said. “And we’re going to have a good time doing it.”