Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
For all intents and purposes, the 2012 Ohio State football senior class is gone, never to wear scarlet and gray in meaningful competition again.
“It’s almost like you’re losing some of your children when they go away to college,” said first-year OSU coach Urban Meyer after the team’s season-ending win against Michigan on Saturday. “Our house is going to be empty.”
Gone? Perhaps, but not to be soon forgotten. After all, it was the contributions of the seniors that made the team’s run at perfection a possibility.
Behind the strength of many of those 21 departing seniors, the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) clinched the sixth undefeated and untied season in program history and the first since 2002 Saturday with a 26-21 win against archrival Michigan (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) at Ohio Stadium. The 109th edition of The Game saw OSU, the Big Ten’s Leaders Division champions, claim its 44th win against the Wolverines.
UM, eliminated from Big Ten title contention after Nebraska beat Iowa on Friday, still owns the all-time series advantage with a 58-44-6 record.
With Saturday being the final game of the season due to the NCAA-imposed postseason ban, one thing was evident within minutes of the final whistle following victory against UM – no more seniors.
Meyer handed out several “thank you’s” during his postgame remarks, but the biggest thank you went out to those whose eligibility is up, players like Zach Boren, Etienne Sabino and John Simon. Theirs was an effort worthy of remembrance, Meyer said, and he plans to ensure that their memory doesn’t fade away.
“I’m going to see to it when you walk into that Woody Hayes (Athletic Center) this team will never be forgotten, because they deserve that,” he said.
It’s not hard to imagine why Meyer feels so strongly.
Boren switched positions midseason, jumping from offense to defense when he left the fullback spot to join a depleted line backing corps. Boren hadn’t played linebacker since high school but, in just six games, he tallied 50 tackles, including a team-high nine in the win against UM.
One of those tackles was a bone-jarring sack of Wolverines junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Boren stood above Gardner after the hit, shouting and rattling his face mask just above Gardner’s.
Sabino broke his leg during OSU’s Oct. 6 win against Nebraska but returned in time to join the team for its divisional-clinching win against Wisconsin on Nov. 17, as well as the game against the Wolverines.
The redshirt senior linebacker said the 2012 season was indeed a dream.
“I wouldn’t want it to end any other way,” he said.
And there was Simon, a defensive end and the team’s emotional leader throughout the perfect campaign. Simon missed Saturday’s Senior Day activities, as well as the game itself, with a right knee injury sustained one week prior against Wisconsin.
“John Simon – the heart and soul of who we are as the 2012 football team,” Meyer said.
Simon was not made available for comment following the game.
There were other major contributors from the senior class, relatively unheralded compared to Boren, Sabino and Simon, but whose contributions likely went just as far in helping the team achieve an undefeated season.
OSU redshirt senior punter Ben Buchanan walked off the Ohio Stadium field for the final time at peace with what he gave to the program. His final play was a 41-yard punt that pinned UM on its 8-yard line with less than 10 minutes to play in the game.
Given the moment, Buchanan said, the punt was as good as it gets.
“I think this team will be remembered as a very unselfish team, a team that really had to come together with some tough circumstances, there’s no doubting that,” Buchanan said. “I was proud of the way these guys just rallied and, they did, we just refused to lose and to be a senior on this team was truly on honor.”
Sensing that he wouldn’t fit in Meyer’s offensive system, OSU senior Reid Fragel went to his then-newly hired coach and volunteered to switch from tight end to right tackle. For his selfless act, Fragel was plunged into a preseason battle for playing time with freshman Taylor Decker, which Fragel later won.
Months later, Fragel attempted to address his teammates in the locker room following the season-ending win against the Wolverines. He struggled to articulate he feelings.
“I wanted to thank (my teammates) and, really, tell them how I feel about this whole year, but it’s hard to put words to this season we’ve had,” Fragel said. “It’s something out of a movie … Just to see us come out 12-0, beating Michigan, that’s something I couldn’t have wrote up before the game.”
As Buchanan and his teammates enjoyed the climactic day of the season, OSU football converged with its troubled past as former coach Jim Tressel, the man responsible for the 2012 team’s postseason ban, returned.
Once shamed by the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal in which he knowingly fielded a team of ineligible players during the 2010 season, Tressel was hoisted onto the shoulders of players from his 2002 national championship team, which was honored for the 10-year reunion of its great feat between the first and second quarters. But with Tressel came memories of his unceremonious exit from the university – he was forced to resign in May 2011 – as well as the Buckeyes’ agonizing 2011 campaign where they posted a 6-7 record.
The loudest cheers during Saturday’s short, in-game ceremony for the 2002 team came during the moments that featured Tressel, the man that each member of the 2012 senior class signed on to play for.
Louder still were the cheers for the current players themselves, now under Meyer’s direction, during actual game action, and particularly when the clock struck “00:00.”
Meyer will hold a “season wrap-up” press conference on Monday, according to an OSU athletics release. The Buckeyes will then turn the page on the 2012 season and set their sights on 2013.
“After our team meeting on Tuesday, we start a new journey,” Meyer said.
The strong foundation that has been laid at OSU exists because of the 21 dedicated Buckeyes that hung up their pads and cleats for the final time on Saturday.
For those seniors who won’t rejoin the Scarlet and Gray in pursuit of championship glory, their last gasp as active members of the Buckeye Brotherhood couldn’t have been sweeter.
“It’s unbelievable, man, I couldn’t ask for anything more other than a chance to play a couple more weeks,” said OSU redshirt senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams. “This is how the 2012 team is going to be remembered by, you know, going undefeated … going 12-0 and beating Michigan at home. I really wouldn’t want to go out any other way than that.”