One Final Ride For O-Line That Set Tone

Perhaps no unit on the team has meant more to Ohio State's renaissance under Urban Meyer as the offensive line. Led by four gritty two-year starters who are now seniors getting ready for their final game, the O-line has set a standard that has helped the program get back on track.

With the 2013 season nearing its end, it's almost becoming a time of reflection, much like the end of every season.

There's just one game to go, so legacies are being discussed, and head coach Urban Meyer has nothing but praise for a group that has matured from one lacking leadership early in the summer to one that is getting ready to take part in Ohio State's return to BCS play against Clemson.

"I love this group," Meyer said. "I have great admiration for these players, and they've earned that right. Now they've got to finish strong. I think the Buckeye nation knows exactly the way the staff feels about this group of players, especially the ones walking out the door."

Meyer was speaking of the entire team and its veterans at that point, but it's fair to say that comment most strongly fits when it comes to the four senior offensive linemen whose rise to prominence mirrors that of the fortunes of the program.

Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall aren't just four guys who have helped Ohio State win 24 games in a row and rewrite basically every offensive record in the book.

They're also the kind of guys who are the heart and soul of a program – grinders, hard workers whose personality and ability to overcome hardships are exactly what Meyer wants his program to be about.

"I love who they are," Meyer said. "I love who they've become. If I was a college kid, that's who I would hang out with. They're sincere, great people that work their tails off. They love Ohio State and they love football."

When told of that quote this week, both Mewhort and Linsley, the two linemen made available to the media this week, laughed at the thought of a college-aged Meyer hanging out in the O-line room in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but they were also proud to have earned such distinction from their head coach.

"It was an honor," Linsley said. "That's the only word that I think embodies it is honor."

The senior center from Boardman, Ohio, knows what it means to be a Buckeye, having grown up watching Ohio State football in the northeast corner of the state. He's also the kind of guy with an appreciation for history, an intelligent, thoughtful guy who understands what the program means.

So when Linsley looks around and hears that he's made an impact on Ohio State football, it means something to him.

"I think of the people who have put in the work and how many great names you have at this university and how many names you don't hear because there's people like Archie Griffin and Troy Smith and all of those Heisman winners," Linsley said.

"There are guys like our strength coach, Jeff Uhlenhake, who was an All-American as a Buckeye and has a tree in Buckeye Grove. He played for the Dolphins for how many years, was Dan Marino's center. Most universities would build statues for him. At our university, that's just another great Buckeye. For the offensive line to be considered at this level, it's definitely an honor to even talk about in that regard."

That will happen when there's four players like the seniors on the offensive line. All but Norwell have spent five years in the program, meaning they've seen a level of chaos and change that they couldn't have expected upon arrival. Each has had some off-field adversity but battled back in a way that has made Meyer proud.

The latest to do so was Hall, who became famous for his own version of the "H" in O-H-I-O when he was kicked out of the Michigan game and then raised both middle fingers to the stadium full of Wolverines fans. He then didn't play vs. Michigan State, either, but is expected to return vs. Clemson.

Linsley admitted it was weird not having Hall out there against the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the bond between the four linemen is not the kind of thing that could fall apart just because of that situation.

"I think it just makes you so close just because I feel it on myself how I feel going through a battle, so it makes me respect those guys so much more because I know they're going through the same thing, if not even more," Mewhort said. "It's not unlike the military. The military, obviously, is the ultimate example of brotherhood and giving yourself to the next guy, but I'd say this is a far second. But I respect the heck out of these guys and I love them, and we're really close off the field, so it makes it easy for me to go out there and give myself to them on the field."

That chemistry and bond perhaps explains a lot – why Ohio State has had historic success running the football this year, not to mention why school records for total points and yards were shattered.

Now, there's only one game left, one game to cement exactly what a stable of tough but humble, rough-and-tumble "big uglies" has meant to the Ohio State program.

"We're in the Orange Bowl," Linsley said. "We're in the big-time BCS bowl that we definitely feel blessed to be a part of. We worked hard to get here. I think that it's bittersweet because the sweet part is we get to play in the Orange Bowl in our last game, and the bitter part is it's our last game and the last game with a great group of guys, especially our O-line. This is the last time we'll be playing together.

"(Right tackle) Taylor (Decker) will be here to carry on the legacy, but for us, we definitely want to go out with a bang, and at the end of the game, there's definitely going to be some tears shed."

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