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Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland’s performance stems from family toughness

Ohio State redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland (32) waits for an Army snap in the fourth quarter of the 2017 OSU- Army game on Sep. 16. OSU won 38-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Jeny and Kyle Borland, the parents of Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland, watched from their seats in section 19AA of Ohio Stadium as the Buckeyes ran off the field and headed toward the student section to sing “Carmen Ohio” after the home team’s 38-7 victory against Army Saturday evening.

They had just seen their son fill in for Chris Worley, who suffered a sprained foot, and make a team-leading 12 total tackles, a performance for which he would be named Ohio State’s defensive player of the game.

Jeny heard her husband’s tone of voice change.

“It made me look up at him because of the sound of his voice and yeah, he was tearing up which made me tear up,” Jeny said. “So I kind of had to look away so I didn’t lose it.”

Kyle, who admitted he thinks of himself as a tough guy, couldn’t help himself. The pride of Tuf achieving his goal overwhelmed him.

Their emotion was matched by Tuf, a usually calm and unemotional person, who could not stop smiling when he took the lectern to speak with the media. When he walked out to see his parents, he attempted to regain his matter-of-fact temperament. It didn’t last long.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland (32) waits to receive a kick during the Ohio State- Oklahoma game on Sep. 9. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

“He tried to walk out of the stadium when we were waiting for him as he normally does, being pretty stoic and so forth, but one look at his mom and he was grinning ear to ear,” Kyle said.

The family headed to Rooster’s, Jeny’s favorite spot, after the game to eat wings, watch some more football and celebrate the win. The trio received a bevy of congratulatory text messages from family, friends and former coaches.

But soon after, Tuf’s parents dropped off the linebacker, who began to feel sore due to bumps and bruises from the game, and returned to their hotel. Before they parted ways, Kyle made sure to leave him with some advice.

“We talk a lot together about being able to play one play at a time and whatever happens happens and you flush it and you move on. And that’s the way he and I talked Saturday night and that’s the way he approached Sunday,” Kyle said. “It’s, ‘OK, Saturday’s over. It was great. It was fun. But it’s over and it’s on to a new week.’”

Tuf was bred into a football family. Kyle played football for Wisconsin and had a short stint in the NFL. He coached Tuf in every sport until Tuf moved on to high school. Kyle’s dad coached football and his brother still coaches. Jeny’s dad coached football. Tuf’s younger brother Trevor, who wear’s Tuf’s No. 32 jersey, plays football for Bolingbrook High School (Illinois).

“My family believes in the game of football,” Kyle said. “We believe in the character it builds. We believe in the communities it unites. We believe in the young people it develops.”

Kyle said if Tuf wanted to do something else other than play football when he grew up, he would have let him. But he also acknowledged he wanted his son to play the sport at which he thrived.

Once Kyle knew Tuf wanted to play the game and desired to play football at the highest level, he did everything he could to make the dreams realities, even if he concedes he pushed Tuf harder than he should have at times, a fact he said his wife mentions “every day.”

“I wanted him to feel what it was like to be under pressure and to be under the pressure to perform because I knew if he wanted to achieve the things he wanted to, he was going to have to be able to perform under pressure and not let that bother him,” Kyle said. “So I did expect a lot and pressured him a lot as a young kid not to play the game, but to play the game well.”

Tuf redshirted his freshman year last season and primarily played special teams over the first two games this year. Against Army was the first chance the linebacker had to play extensive snaps since arriving in Columbus.

OSU redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland (32) prepares for a play during the season opener vs Indiana. OSU won 49-21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

“We pride ourselves on being ready when our numbers are called,” Tuf said after the game. “I just got the opportunity tonight.”

Not even the inside linebacker knew he would be playing as much as he did.

“I kind of knew I was going to be rotating in, but I didn’t know my role was going to be to that extent,” Tuf said after the game. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

His mother said the performance brought her back to when he played in high school.

Since the family lives in Illinois and goes to Trevor’s football games on Friday nights, the travel to Columbus happens overnight. The parents left after the high school game ended, drove a few hours to Kyle’s sister’s house, where they slept 2 1/2 hours before driving the final stretch to Columbus to make it well before the 4:30 p.m. kickoff. 

That timeline must be abbreviated for Saturday’s game against UNLV, which kicks off at noon.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” Jeny said. “We did it last year. It’s exciting and fun. This is only four years. Time’s going to go along fast, so we’ve got to appreciate every moment, every game.”

Since Meyer listed Worley as questionable on Wednesday, the redshirt freshman has a chance to make his first career start. If Tuf’s performance against Army indicated anything, he’ll rack up tackles, even though UNLV throws more often than the Black Knights’ triple-option offense.

“His personality matches his name,” Coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s a tough guy.”

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