Seniors Ready To Cement Legacy

With fall camp starting today, the seniors on the Ohio State football team know they have one final chance to leave their legacy and accomplish all of their goals in a season. That point is especially clear given how close the Buckeyes were to doing so last season before an ending that provided a fair share of offseason motivation.

Jeff Heuerman remembers what it was like in the winter of 2011 when he showed up at Ohio State.

There was a culture shock – and it wasn’t just because of the snow on the ground for the Florida native.

“Braxton and I came in early together, 3½ years ago, we showed up as high school seniors on campus. We didn’t know anything,” Heuerman said with a laugh. “I remember sitting in the first meeting with him, the first offensive meeting in the team room, and afterward we looked at each other like, ‘What?’ We didn’t even know what was said. It was like, you have to be kidding me. We have to go out and practice now?”

Of course, now those guys like Heuerman, Braxton Miller and Michael Bennett – the three seniors who the Buckeyes chose to represent the team last week at the Big Ten Media Days – are the old hands on the Ohio State roster.

Today, they begin their final training camps at Ohio State. They’ve accomplished great things and represented the program well on the field and off, and now they have one final chance to make history and lead a team that will go down in the already thick record book at Ohio State.

“We’ve come a long way,” Heuerman said. “We just want to leave a statement as seniors. It’s our senior year and people remember your senior year and what you did. We just want to make a statement and get back to Indianapolis and compete for a championship.”

The highlights, of course, are well known. There’s the 24-game winning streak from the start of head coach Urban Meyer’s tenure through the end of the 2013 regular season, a school-record mark. There’s two straight wins against Michigan, a 16-game Big Ten winning streak, a perfect campaign and a lot of hardware that’s been won.

But then there’s the other side. The Buckeyes are yet to win a conference championship or a bowl game over the past three seasons, and last year ended with the consecutive losses to Michigan State in the league title game and then Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

In other words, there’s some unfinished business there, and the Buckeyes aren’t hiding from that.

“It was used as motivation in January and February,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “My anticipation is we’ll be a very hungry team.”

When asked about the unfinished business angle, Heuerman couldn’t help but agree.

“I can see where you’re coming from on that,” the loquacious tight end said. “Twenty-four straight wins doesn’t happen a whole lot. The two losses, you have to embrace them and take the positive from it. We do need to accomplish some things – our group of seniors, we don’t have a Big Ten championship since we’ve been here and we don’t have a bowl win since we’ve been here. Those are two things we need to accomplish our senior year and we’re going to do everything we can.”

The Buckeyes finished last season without any of the rings they truly wanted based on the way the campaign finished. The Michigan State loss not only ended the team’s winning streak, it kept Ohio State from capturing a league championship and knocked the Buckeyes from their shot at playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

That’s not the finish the team wants or expects, defensive tackle Michael Bennett said.

“When we went 12-0 in the regular season last year, that felt great, but those are all steps to get you where you really want,” Bennett said. “We took the steps to the door and got kicked off the porch. We need to finish it now. We need to get through that door. I think that’s the whole goal now this year is we know what it takes each and every single game, but when it finally matters to get to what we worked for, it’s time to win.”

Memories of that finish last year are hard to forget, especially the Big Ten title game loss. It was particularly hard on someone like Heuerman, whose missed block on a fourth-and-2 play was a big part of the team’s loss, but this year’s squad has a chance to erase those memories.

“I think at this point it is more fuel,” Heuerman said. “For a few weeks afterward, it was more lay in bed and be like, ‘Oh man…” but it was a new experience. We won 24 straight games with this coaching staff and never lost a game. We didn’t know what it was like until that Michigan State game.

“It was an experience, and we went through it together and I think it ultimately made us stronger. Coming back we have the best coach in the country and the best quarterback in the country, and it’s going to make us a real contender for this year and this new playoff system.”

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