Before he even hit the field, redshirt junior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle made his name known to Ohio State’s populous fan base.
On Fourth of July weekend 2014, police in Lorain, Ohio, were called to the Grown and Sexy bar where a “large fight” had broken out. Sprinkle, who was involved in the fight, was arrested by police on charges of drug possession, drug paraphernalia and riot/failure to disperse — all which he pleaded not guilty.
OSU coach Urban Meyer suspended Sprinkle indefinitely at the time and then dismissed the would-be redshirt freshman.
After a hair sample — designed to detect drug use up to six months — detected no trace of drug use, Sprinkle was fined $500, given a 30-day suspended sentence, two-year probation and had to participate in educational and community service programs.
Aug. 2014, almost a month later, Sprinkle was reinstated to the Buckeyes and suspended for one game.
“It’s just a mistake that I made and God brought me through it,” Sprinkle said. “I’ve learned to appreciate what you have because it can be gone within seconds. I’m just happy to be here and showcase my talent on Saturdays.”
Sprinkle was buried in the depth chart when he returned to the team. As a member of the 2013 recruiting class that brought in J.T. Barrett, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple and Vonn Bell among others, Sprinkle already had an uphill battle to crack the starting lineup. He said it crossed his mind a few times if he would ever see playing time.
But before he had a chance to play, he had to earn back the trust of the coaching staff.
“It was tough, but my coaches believed in me. My players, my teammates believed in me,” Sprinkle said. “Even in high school I had to work. Even in life, I always had to fight to get where I am.”
Two years later, Sprinkle’s probation has ended and he will line up with the first-team defense on Saturday for his first season as a starter on OSU’s defensive line.
Sprinkle played in three games in 2014 and all 13 games in 2015. He filled in for the suspended Adolphus Washington in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, Sprinkle’s first significant action for OSU. He said when Washington went to the NFL, Sprinkle knew his window of opportunity had opened.
As a redshirt junior, Sprinkle is one of the more experienced individuals on the team. He may not have the time on the field giving him credibility, but knowing how to practice and do the little things makes Sprinkle believe he knows how to lead a young defense.
“I really don’t set too many personal goals, just team goals,” Sprinkle said. “I love my unit. I love the rushmen. Other than Sam (Hubbard) and Tyquan (Lewis), people really don’t know us.”
For now, OSU fans almost strictly know Sprinkle for his early off-the-field issues. He said he doesn’t regret what happened because he matured a lot from the incident, which ultimately made him a better person and football player.
“I’m happy where I’m at now,” Sprinkle said. “I don’t want to be known for anything negative. I guess I got to show it on the field to change people’s mind.”
Sprinkle made great strides this past spring, emerging as a leader on and off the field according to Meyer. Just two years after being dismissed from the team, Sprinkle believes he can make a name for himself on the gridiron.
“He’s a story I usually talk about every year and that’s a guy that maybe had struggles,” Meyer said. “He’s going to be an Ohio State graduate and a leader of our team and a starter, so it’s just one of those great stories.”