Seniors Ready For Chance To Cement Legacy

The Ohio State program the seniors on the Buckeye squad entered a few short years ago has gone through a heck of a lot more change than they ever could have imagined. But through highs and lows, the players have stuck by the program, and the result is one last chance to go out on their terms when camp starts Friday.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say the seniors on the Ohio State football team going into tomorrow's start of fall camp have been through as much, if not more, than any class in program history.

All of them came to Ohio State as part of highly rated classes that were supposed to help the Buckeyes snap a highly publicized bowl losing streak and return the program to the elite of the elite.

Instead, they watched as the program reached some of its lowest days, capped by a one-year bowl ban that means none of them will get to lift any trophy at season's end in Florida, California or any other warm-weather bowl locale.

The highs have been high, the lows low and the ride never smooth.

"Everything we've gone through has pointed us to right now," fullback Zach Boren said. "It's kind of, I don't know, a funny story just because this senior class has been through a lot. We were the No. 1-ranked recruiting class coming in. We've had a bunch of guys leave from our class. We've been through three head coaches in four years. It has been different."

Now, those seniors have the chance to be part of the ground floor of something that could be huge. With Urban Meyer checking in for his first season as the Buckeyes' head coach, visions of national titles – such as the two Meyer won in six seasons at Florida – are dancing through the heads of Ohio State fans looking forward.

Of course, that can't happen this year given the bowl ban, but a special campaign – one that puts the Buckeyes on the right track for the entirety of the Meyer tenure – certainly could, and it would go a long way to cementing the legacies of the eight members of the class of 2008 and the five current seniors from the class of '09.

"It's kind of bittersweet with everything that's happened," Boren said, "but I think this may be our time to shine as seniors. I'm hoping it is."

That thought takes on a different view when one realizes none of the seniors had to return to Ohio State if they did not want to. The bowl ban was announced in December, and the senior players could have either left for professional football or found another way out of the program if they truly wanted to – especially given the fact that Meyer was set to become their third coach in as many seasons.

But all decided to stick around, living up to the pledges they gave when joining the program three or four years ago.

"It's something special at Ohio State," defensive end Johnny Simon said. "When you commit to Ohio State, you commit to four or five years of playing football here with the best teammates you can have, the best coaching staff and the best fans. There's no way you would leave."

That must be true given all the players have gone through since arriving at Ohio State. When they arrived, the Buckeyes looked to be on about as solid of footing as any program in college football.

Jim Tressel's machine of Big Ten titles and BCS berths was at its strongest, as the '08 class that features seniors Etienne Sabino, Orhian Johnson, Travis Howard, Zach Domicone, Garrett Goebel, Nathan Williams, Jacob Stoneburner and Ben Buchanan entered school on the heels of consecutive national title game appearances.

Ohio State, of course, lost both of those, but the incoming class of recruits – which was rated fourth in the nation – was expected to turn the tide behind that group as well as other highly rated pieces like Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey and the rest of the "Brew Crew" offensive linemen.

That season got off to a rough start with a blowout loss at USC, but the Buckeyes regrouped to make the Fiesta Bowl and followed by adding the No. 1-rated class in the country in 2009.

The early returns were fine – Ohio State won the Rose Bowl at the end of that season and lost just one game in 2010 – before everything fell apart. The 2009 class started leaking members because of injuries and other issues, while the free tattoos and sold memorabilia scandal hit the program between the eyes in December of '10.

The next calendar year was a wilderness, with the low points the dismissal of Tressel and the first losing season in more than two decades. But in rode Meyer, and the result is a group seemingly refreshed with a high-energy, intense coaching staff behind it.

"I'm excited about this one because it's a new year, a new energy," Boren said. "Everything is new in the program and I'm excited about that. All the seniors are amped up. It's kind of like our first camp all over again. We don't know what to expect, but at the same time, it's going to be fun."

Camp begins in a slightly more unconventional way than ever before. The Buckeyes will have a Friday morning practice for the returning veterans, while the team's incoming freshmen will hit the field for the first time in the afternoon.

That's a change from past years – get used to that concept – but everything will lead up to the kickoff of the seniors' final season on Sept. 1 against Miami University in Ohio Stadium.

This story passed over some major milestones of the seniors' era, but a lot was in here. In many ways, it could have been the longest four or five years of many of the players' lives.

Instead, the opposite is true.

"It is very cliché," Sabino said. "You hear, ‘It goes fast, it goes fast,' but you kind of just say, ‘Yeah, whatever,' until it's your turn. Then you're like, ‘Wow, I have 12 more games to play.' It's just crazy. It's been a great experience and I've loved every minute of it."

Starting Friday, they get one more chance at it.

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