It's usually described as a bittersweet moment by the outgoing seniors. They are admittedly sad to be concluding their collegiate careers, but they also remember the good times. And in recent years, that's included the current season's chase for a Big Ten title and a BCS title game bid.
Unfortunately for the two dozen departing Buckeyes, the 2011 season has featured more bitter than most campaigns. Not only has Ohio State lost four games, three in conference play, but it has done so after a tumultuous offseason that resulted in the resignation of longtime head coach Jim Tressel, the departure of incumbent quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the NFL and the multigame suspensions handed out to a trio of offensive starters.
Even so, senior leader Michael Brewster is not looking back with disappointment.
"People ask me, ‘Do you wish you wouldn't have come back?' I don't have any regrets," Brewster said. "It's been great. I get to run out into the Shoe one more time, and I'm really looking forward to it. And I get to share it with my parents on the field. … It's going to be a special day."
The family aspect will be even more special for fifth-year senior Solomon Thomas. He will have a special fan in attendance when the Buckeyes take on Penn State.
"This is my mother's first game," Thomas said. "She's coming from San Diego. That'll be interesting. She doesn't really understand football."
Thomas was one of the players suspended from the tattoos/memorabilia for money scandal, getting the same five-game punishment that was handed to Pryor, offensive tackle Mike Adams, tailback Boom Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey. Herron received another one-game punishment in October for accepting improper benefits from an offseason job in Cleveland, as did offensive lineman Marcus Hall. Posey received an additional five-game suspension stemming for the violation.
Posey's first game back will coincide with Senior Day, and OSU head coach Luke Fickell was asked on Tuesday about the reaction Posey and other once-suspended seniors will receive. He said he can't worry about that and he hopes the Adams, Herron, Posey and Thomas won't dwell on that, either.
"They've made a mistake. They've served their penance," Fickell said. "They've shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves. The fans … probably doesn't know that as well. They haven't been there every day to see how they've been in that locker room. What they've meant to those guys, whether they were freshmen or seniors along with them. So hopefully they will understand that and give them their due."
Fickell later added that he has the "utmost respect" for the senior class as a whole for how the group has handled what has been a challenging season.
"I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months," he said. "They've been up there standing up for us all."
Herron was emotional before his first home game following his suspension, tearing up during the national anthem prior to Ohio State's dramatic victory against Wisconsin. He said he and the other suspended players learned from the adversity they've dealt with.
"We definitely all learned from what we did," Herron said. "I think the penalty was the penalty. We had to go through it. There wasn't anything that we could really do about that. I think we did our jobs, being man enough to take our penalties and trying to get back out there with our teammates and be leaders."
The Senior Day ceremonies will also be different because of who won't be there – Tressel. Brewster said he knows Tressel will be there in spirit. Brewster has been in contact with his former coach during the season, primarily through text messages.
"He'll shoot me some stuff or I'll give him a shout and just see how things are going," Brewster said. "I just try to keep in touch because he was a big part of my life for six, seven years."
As for the legacy of this senior class, Brewster said he'll focus on the good times.
"We went through a lot of stuff this past year, but I think I'll remember the two BCS bowl wins and three Big Ten championships, all the great times," he said. "I even had some great times this year with some guys like Jack Mewhort and (Jake) Stoneburner and Adams and all those guys that I got an extra year to play with."