The Ohio State football program has produced players now considered to be NFL greats, such as Bill Willis, Cris Carter and Eddie George. With the 2013 season heading into the home stretch, a new class of Buckeyes, young and experienced, is looking to succeed at football’s highest level.
As of Wednesday, a total of 35 former Buckeyes currently hold NFL roster spots, including three that were taken in the 2013 NFL Draft.
These players were defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, drafted 49th overall by the New York Giants, defensive end John Simon, who was drafted 129th by the Baltimore Ravens and offensive lineman Reid Fragel, who was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals 240th overall but was later signed by the Cleveland Browns.
Arguably the most noteworthy performance from the first three weeks of the season came from former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, currently the starter for the Oakland Raiders.
During week one, Pryor threw for 217 yards and rushed for 112 more, both game highs. That came in a losing effort, as the Raiders were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts, 21-17.
The next week, he led the Raiders to their first win, a 19-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mike Nugent, OSU’s kicker from 2001-04, gained newfound popularity with Ohio fans after kicking a game-winning 54 yard field goal for the Cincinnati Bengals to defeat the Detroit Lions Oct. 20.
Other Buckeyes have been in the league for much longer than Pryor and Nugent, and have played on Super Bowl and Pro Bowl teams.
One of the most successful veterans is linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2006 and currently in his eighth season.
Hawk was named to the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team in 2006, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010, and was a member of the Packers team that defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
Hawk’s former teammate, Santonio Holmes, is an eight-year veteran and current wide receiver for the New York Jets. In 2009, Holmes caught the game-winning touchdown and was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
In recent years, more college players enter the NFL Draft when they believe they are ready to join the professional ranks before they graduate. The decision to consider the draft also depends on if there are more benefits in joining the draft or staying an extra year in college.
Buckeye coach Urban Meyer said for underclassmen, the decision to declare for the NFL Draft is ultimately up to the players themselves. However, he is critical in how the current NFL drafting system takes players after a very short college experience.
“There’s a process in place by the National Football League that at first, I was very disappointed in the process, it’s very vague and I didn’t like it at all,” Meyer told ESPN’s Austin Ward in December. “I actually talked to (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell several times about it … I think they’ve done a better job, I’m not here to berate that because I think they do a fine job, but it’s a very imperfect system.”
Many players acknowledge their experiences as part of the Buckeye football program even after accomplishing major success in the professional ranks. Former Buckeye wide receiver Carter gave thanks to his alma mater during his acceptance speech to the NFL Hall of Fame earlier in 2013.
“Buckeye, Born and Bred, now Hall of Famer, even after I’m dead,” Carter said.
OSU is seen as one of the top schools for NFL talent, producing the third most draft picks of all time, and because of this, is able to assemble a very strong recruiting class.