We all know that. Heck, the whole nation knows it.
Ohio State lost six key offensive starters to graduation then two first-round draft picks on defense to the professional ranks after last year’s ending showed just how far the Buckeyes had to go to be an elite team in college football.
Then Braxton Miller got injured. Then J.T. Barrett got injured. Then, to put it bluntly, Kosta Karageorge’s body was found. It’s not been fun. It’s hurt. There’s been pain, more than any college football team can really expect to overcome in one season.
And yet here they are. As Michael Thomas said in the Superdome locker room with writers within earshot Thursday night, “30 for 30! Write the script!” There’s a lot of incredible sports stories out there, but Thomas is right – this one will probably deserve to be told years down the road.
They’re not supposed to be here right now.
But I think that message means a lot more than just the obvious storylines we’ve seen unfold before our eyes. Yeah, this team has overcome adversity. It’s battled back from personnel loses, gone on the road and overcome weather and good teams and deficits, embraced the “grab the rifle,” next-man-up mentality.
Think about Tyvis Powell.
After two mediocre years of high school football, he was about to quit the team. A new coach convinced him to keep at it, and he worked out every day at 5:30 a.m. to earn his Ohio State scholarship offer. When he first met Jim Tressel, he came armed with a report card and high school transcript. When he redshirted his first season at OSU, he wrote an open letter to Ohio State fans saying he’d be better.
Now, his mantel has two footballs on it. One he earned last night when he caught Alabama’s last-gasp Hail Mary into the end zone to clinch the Sugar Bowl. It will join the game-winning interception he made on a two-point conversion to clinch the Michigan win last year. He hasn’t been able to stop smiling – well, OK, that’s just Tyvis – or let go of those balls since.
Think about Darron Lee.
He couldn’t play soccer at age 4 because he couldn’t handle losing – or not having the ball in his hands. Even when he was starring at New Albany High School near Columbus, he didn’t get much recruiting attention from the Power 5, prompting his mother, Candice to ask around – what could the family do? He hit the camp circuit, going to one at Ohio State but leaving without an offer. He returned again and finally received that offer despite being just a three-star prospect at the time.
He arrived as a 195-pound stringbean with almost no defensive experience. A year ago he was one of the more anonymous players on the team, a man without a position who dealt with injury – and at the time he told people he’d be the next Ryan Shazier.
Yet here he is, making seven solo tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and thwarting Alabama drives left and right in the Sugar Bowl. On the year, he has 16½ tackles for loss, 7½ sacks, two fumble return TDs, two interceptions and has filled the stat sheet unlike most other players in OSU history.
Think about Cardale Jones.
His story has been told plenty over the past few weeks, but really think about it. He came from family instability, to say the least, the latest in a long line of kids molded by Ted Ginn Sr. He had to go to a military academy just to get to Ohio State, overcame “the tweet” and still had thrown less than 20 career passes going into the Michigan game. Here he is leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game after just about every turn in his story has proved to be an improbable one.
I could keep going on and on. There’s Rashad Frazier, who played one year of high school football, transferred in as a walk-on and earned a scholarship. There’s Darryl Baldwin, who kept working while no one watched in an effort to see the field and will now start in the national championship game. There’s Eli Apple, who was so buried on the depth chart last year he took his black stripe into the spring then helped shut down a Heisman finalist in the Sugar Bowl.
Look at the wide receivers on the field. Devin Smith is second all-time in career TD catches at Ohio State and busts his ass to down punts at the 1-yard line. Corey Smith could pout after a year in which he didn’t have the ball in his hands as much as he’d like; instead he crushes guys on kickoff coverage and decleats players with crackback blocks.
“Once you really love the guy next to you and you’ll play hard for one another, then magical stuff happens,” Doran Grant said in the locker room after the Sugar Bowl. “This is an example of what I’ve been talking about that nobody saw but us. But I guess you see it now.”
The whole nation sees it. The team that’s not supposed to be here has crashed the party.