The presence of junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis and junior outside linebacker Raekwon McMillan was felt last season throughout the Big Ten. Both men are expected to have big years for the Scarlet and Gray, while also looking to secure Nagurski Award honors.
The Nagurski Award, presented by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club, is given to the top defensive player in all of college football. An OSU player has only taken the hardware once since it’s creation in 1993: former St. Louis Rams and current New Orleans Saints linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Lewis has yet to be the No. 1 defensive end on the Buckeyes’ squad, spending most of his time in the shadow of former standout Joey Bosa and losing snaps to then-freshman Sam Hubbard last season. However, Lewis has spent most of the spring as the primary defensive end on the line, looking to improve off an impressive performance last year.
Totaling eight sacks and 54 tackles in his 2015 campaign, Lewis had surgery in January to repair a torn shoulder labrum. He has been making progress throughout the offseason, and is expected to be ready to go once the season kicks off.
McMillan has been a key contributor to the Buckeyes since starting as a freshman in 2014. Totaling 54 tackles in the national championship season for OSU, he saw playing time in all 15 games that year.
Last year, after the departure of Curtis Grant in 2014, McMillan became the primary linebacker for the Scarlet and Gray, and it showed. The former five-star high school recruit led the team in tackles, and showed improved technique and speed.
Both men are also on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, a similar award given to the nation’s top defender as voted by the Maxwell Football Club.
McMillan and Lewis are joined by other OSU players looking to bring home awards this season. Senior center Pat Elflein is on both the Rimington and Outland Trophy watch lists for best offensive lineman of the year, and redshirt junior quarterback JT Barrett is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the best player in college football.
OSU is set to begin the 2016 campaign on Sept. 3 against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.