After suffering a foot injury against Wisconsin in the seventh week of the season and missing the next two games, fifth-year senior linebacker Ross Homan said it took him until the season finale against Michigan to finally feel like he was performing like the player he was prior to the injury.
"It was tough because I was constantly thinking about my foot," he said Friday morning. "It still hurt, so you're trying to focus on the game and your assignments. It took a while but I think Michigan was the first game I really felt 100 percent. I'm feeling great in practice and looking forward to the game."
In the win against the Wolverines, Homan recorded eight tackles. It was his most productive outing in the three games he played after suffering the injury, which happened when his foot was bent awkwardly against the Badgers. He also earned a winning performance in the eyes of the OSU coaching staff, grading out at 86 percent.
He tried to return to the game against the Badgers but was unable to go. The injury proved to be a sprain in the bottom of his arch, he said. However, Homan said the physical pain did not compare to the feeling of watching the Buckeyes lose their only game of the season with him relegated to the sidelines.
"It was (awful)," he said. "It hurt worse than the injury. It sucked being on the sideline, but it could always be worse. I came back and I'm here now getting ready for the bowl."
Homan missed victories against Purdue and Minnesota before returning to record seven tackles in a win against Penn State. Despite that total, linebackers coach Luke Fickell said the senior was not the same player.
"He's the type of kid that frustration maybe set in when he came back and was still a little dinged up," the coach said. "Really in the past few weeks and the last two games of the year it was great to see him revive a little bit."
As Homan said, Fickell felt the biggest challenge for the linebacker was to get past the mental hurdles required to play at the level expected of him.
"Now he's finally got his mental edge back," the coach said. "His abilities are back to where they were from a mental standpoint. It's tough. Everybody is affected in different ways. Sometimes people are affected more mentally but he fought though that in the second half of the season and got a lot better."
Fellow senior linebacker Brian Rolle said he felt Homan could have returned earlier than he did from a physical standpoint but that the coaches did not want to rush his recovery.
"I think with any player that's out for a number of games, getting back physically is easy but mentally it's hard to get back into it," he said. "You could see Ross building on that confidence and building mentally each week as we went on and played."
His presence will be especially important as the Buckeyes try to slow an Arkansas attack that has a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and five 500-yard receivers. As OSU plans to stop prolific quarterback Ryan Mallett, the focus will likely start on the rushing attack led by Knile Davis.
That means the skills of Homan, who enters the game 18th in school history with 278 career tackles, will likely be at a premium.
It was not the first injury in Homan's career. After enrolling early to start his freshman season, he saw action in all 13 games that season and was expected to be a major contributor the following year until a turf toe injury forced him to take a medical redshirt.
Adding to the situation is the fact that Homan considered heading to the NFL following his junior season. Asked what he got out of returning for a final season in Columbus, Homan said, "Just experience. I improved on things technique-wise. I'm definitely glad that I experienced this kind of season with these kinds of seniors."
Homan added that he did not rue his decision to return while lying on the field at Camp Randall Stadium with an injured foot. And while he said he remains glad he returned for a year in which he was named a first-team all-Big Ten player, Homan said he will always remember that warm October night in Wisconsin.
"We can always say it could've been," he said. "We win that one and we'd be in a different situation right now but you can't look on the past you can only look forward. We're in a BCS game and who else can say that? It's not too bad of a situation. Everyone is excited to play in this game."