Hometown Hero

For most Ohio State players, Friday will mark their first opportunity to take their talents to South Beach. But the experience won't be anything new for Ryan Shazier, whose long, strange journey brings him back home for what could be the final game of his college career.

According to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Ryan Shazier would project as a second round pick in next May's selection show. But before the Ohio State junior linebacker decides whether or not to enter the upcoming draft, he first has another professional career that he'll attempt to pursue.

Tour guide.

"He's coming in and telling us where LeBron (James) lives and this and that," senior safety C.J. Barnett said of his younger teammate.

If there's anybody on the Buckeyes roster who would know where the four-time NBA MVP resides, it'd be Shazier, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native who finds himself back in his hometown as Ohio State prepares to face Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. One of the Buckeyes' most visible leaders, Shazier admitted to being even extra excited for his return to the Sunshine State.

"There's been a little extra pep in my step just knowing I know this area," Shazier said. "It's just home for me."

South Beach may have been where he grew up, but over the course of the past three years, Columbus is the city where the 6-2, 222-pounder has resided. Leaving his original home, however, wasn't always the plan for Shazier, as the one-time four-star prospect was originally committed to play for Florida.

It was just three years ago that Shazier saw his future in Gainesville, where head coach Urban Meyer had the Gators riding high. But after the two-time national champion head coach resigned following a 7-5 regular season in 2010, Shazier opted to look elsewhere, committing to Ohio State just before the start of the 2011 calendar year.

The instability that he had hoped to avoid in Gainesville seemed to follow Shazier to Columbus, with Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel also resigning before the official start of his freshman season. A 6-7 campaign in 2011 took a toll on the then freshman, who admitted to missing the South Beach sun.

"Sometimes when you're up there you wish you were home," Shazier said. "Just because of the weather or you're so far from home."

But the Plantation product said that he never wavered in his decision to be a Buckeye -- one that seemingly paid off when Meyer was hired as Tressel's permanent replacement at the end of the 2011 season. In what may have seemed like a case of divine intervention for the son of the Miami Dolphins' team chaplain, Shazier was suddenly united with the head coach who he originally committed to play for, at the school that he deemed to be the best fit to spend his college career.

"I just look back a lot knowing that at fist I wasn't even planning on coming to Ohio State. I feel like God has a plan and I feel like the best plan was for me to come to Ohio State," Shazier said. "Everything just played out the way I had hoped and the way God intended it to go."

Playing for Meyer was seemingly worth the wait for Shazier, who blossomed into an All-Big Ten selection in 2012, before being named a first-team All-American in 2013. With one game to go against the Tigers on Friday, the former Sunshine State star has 135 tackles, 23.5 of which have come for a loss, and seven sacks in his junior campaign, further proof that his unique route to Columbus was the right one for him.

Now adding to his seemingly fairytale story is the fact that the last game of his college career could be played in front of a hometown crowd. And while he's not ready to say whether or not he'll be turning pro after the game yet, the opportunity to play in Miami -- and show his teammates LeBron's house -- is clearly a special one for Shazier.

"I'm probably going to have almost 30 people come to the game. I know it's a lot. I'm trying to get as many tickets as possible," Shazier said with a smile. "It's just a really good experience knowing that I can come home and play."

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