Herron finished serving a five-game suspension stemming from the so-called "tattoo-gate" scandal prior to the Oct. 8 game at Nebraska. Unfortunately for Herron and the Buckeyes, he was then given an additional one-game suspension for the game against the Cornhuskers because he was ruled to have been overpaid at a part-time job in Cleveland.
Now arguably the best scout-team tailback in the nation will suit up again in Scarlet and Gray for the first time since the Sugar Bowl. Herron's teammates are obviously excited to see him back in action.
"To bring back a thousand-yard back, it's huge," senior center Mike Brewster said. "I know he's ready. He's going to be more powerful and quicker than ever. It's going to be great getting him back."
Herron had a impressive junior season in 2010, rushing for 1,155 yards and 16 touchdowns on 216 carries in 13 games, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. His return should be a big boost to Ohio State's rushing attack, one that averages 4.1 yards per carry and ranks seventh in the Big Ten heading into this weekend.
The Warren (Ohio) Harding product has been hidden from media eyes since August. During preseason practices open to reporters, Herron spent as much time cheering on and mentoring his fellow running backs as he did working on his own game. Practices were closed once the season started and Herron became a standout on the scout team, helping to prep the Ohio State defense each week.
"He'd talk a little bit and get the guys fired up both on the offense and defense," junior defensive tackle Garrett Goebel said of Herron's effort during practices. "He gave us a great look. While we might miss him on the scout team, I'd much rather have him on our offense."
Junior tight end Jake Stoneburner said Herron has led the team despite not actually getting to play on Saturdays.
"He's always been real positive, cheering us on – just acting like the senior that he is," Stoneburner said. "I really respect him for that. He had a tough job these past six weeks, so to have him back and have him full go will be pretty nice."
In addition to the emotion lift Herron will bring, Brewster said Herron has gotten "bigger and stronger and faster" than he was during the 2010 season and should provide a big spark once he returns to game action.
"He is making even better cuts than he did last year," Brewster said. "I'm really anxious to get him back out there."
Herron's scout-team duty might be over, but his energy level – and trash talking – did not change Tuesday afternoon as the Buckeyes began Illinois prep.
"He's excited to be out there," Stoneburner said. "He was vocal as usual. I think he's just ready to go out and make some plays and finally be a part of our team."
Herron was not listed as the starter at tailback on the latest depth chart, which was released on Monday. Junior Jordan Hall remained the starter, with sophomore Carlos Hyde listed as the backup. Hyde was the leading rusher through the first six games, running for 400 yards and five touchdowns in 75 carries. Hall rushed for 265 yards and a touchdown in 67 attempts despite missing the first two games of the season serving a suspension.
Still, senior linebacker Andrew Sweat expects Herron to play well when he gets his chance to carry the ball against the Illini.
"He's going to give us his all every day," Sweat said. "He practiced extremely hard today. … He's an extremely powerful guy. Boom brings it."