Ohio State then-junior defender CC Uche (3) looks for an open man during the first half of the Ohio State-Rutgers game on Sep. 30, 2018. Ohio State lost 3-2. Credit: Cody Mefferd | For the Lantern

CC Uche’s final season of collegiate soccer was cut short after four games, but that hasn’t stopped the senior defender from having an impact on the team. 

The Buckeyes had two wins and one loss. The defense already had two shutouts under its belt. Everything seemed to be clicking for Uche and the Buckeyes, but the course of his season drastically changed a couple of minutes into a matchup with Eastern Illinois Sept. 8, when he found himself on the ground.

“I went to go strike through the ball, and then I heard a loud pop,” Uche said. “I continued to run after for a couple more minutes. I went to go pass the ball to [redshirt senior goalkeeper Parker Siegfried], and I felt something. I fell to the ground.”

Just like that, a promising start to the new year ended as quickly as it began. Uche, however, refused to be deterred by the leg injury as he continued to show up for games — albeit in a different capacity. The exact details of the injury have not been disclosed.

While it could have been easy to absolve himself of responsibilities, Uche still mentors players at practices and games, Siegfried said.

“My heart goes out to him,” Siegfried said. “A sad thing to deal with your senior year. Credit to him for how he has handled it. He is still the leader he was before.”

Starting all 18 matches for the Buckeyes last season after playing for two years at Duke, Uche brought seasoned experience to the Ohio State backline.

Three matches after the injury, with his team down 1-0 against West Virginia at halftime, Uche exemplified that leadership is just as important as on-field play for a team with 14 underclassmen on its roster.

“He came in and gave a little speech and got our heads back into it. We came out and equalized,” Siegfried said. “He’s a good soccer mind. He has a good sense of leadership. It is a real bummer he is not on the field with us, but he has taken the off-the-field leadership role seriously.”

Uche did not originally take the news of his season-ending injury gracefully. After being informed of the severity of the injury, he questioned the expertise of his doctor and later felt guilty, he said.

That initial denial has melted into acceptance, as the Georgia native can now be found not sulking over his plight, but at the side of head coach Brian Maisonneuve and the coaching staff, putting his trained eye to work to benefit his team.

“It’s great to have another set of eyes. I asked him the other day, anything you see, don’t be afraid to talk,” Maisonneuve said.

The negative situation turned into a positive for Uche and has allowed him to see the game from a different perspective, he said.

“Being on the bench for the first time, I am starting to see the little tendencies I might do and other players, which now I am like, ‘Wow, I shouldn’t have done that. There are other options.’ You learn a lot from watching,” Uche said. “Observing is just as important as playing.”

Uche has also realized how crucial his teammates are to his journey to recovery.

“I can’t go through this process without them. They have definitely helped me get through this process more than they think they have,” Uche said. “Seeing the players perform and assisting them in their game is benefiting the healing process.”

Despite his influence on the sidelines, Uche’s injury has taken a toll on the team on the field. After the 2-1 start, the Buckeyes have gone 5-6-1 since he went down. Uche is done looking at it through that lens, though.

“All I want to see is my dogs ball,” Uche said. “I am starting to see things from a different perspective. It’s so cool how that works. You can find a positive in any negative situation. Everything happens for a reason. I am sure this is another lesson that you know will add to my game.”