Darrion Scott and Will Smith were both coming off of fantastic Fiesta Bowl performances; the two had played a critical role in the victory. While Smith had been injured for part of the season, Scott had been abusing offenses since September. His planting of Washington State's Jason Gesser had been posterized by the Buckeye faithful and still brings a smile to the faces of most fans.
The assumption was that both of these young men were likely going to jump to the NFL draft. Smith was expected to end up in the first two rounds (depending on his performance for scouts in combines) while Scott probably was a second or third rounder. Surprisingly, both of them took the path less traveled (blazed by Doss in 2002) and returned for their senior campaign.
Their hopes were to lead Ohio State to consecutive national titles and have outstanding seasons, improving their draft status. Will Smith had at least part of his dreams come true with his impressive 10.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 47 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 passes broken up. Overlooked and passed over by awards committees, NFL scouts will not be so foolish; he will soon be a multi-millionaire.
However, for Darrion Scott, not much worked out the way he planned it.
"You know, I figured this would be my best year," he said. "I felt like I was really good, technique was sound, and getting to the ball. I felt like I had everything I needed …"
Until he was injured.
Scott was simply jogging down the field, trailing a play in the season's fourth game against Bowling Green when he was waylaid from behind by a BGSU player.
"The play was over and the guy just decided to go for my ankle," Scott said. "There was nothing I could do about it. It's turned out to be one of the worst injuries I've had."
Scott suffered the dreaded "high ankle sprain" that wrecks seasons for football players, especially linemen. A broken bone might be better because at least it heals to 100 percent in a matter of weeks. However, a high ankle injury often lingers and lingers and lingers.
"A high ankle sprain takes six to eight weeks to heal and really doesn't get better until you get off of it," Scott said. "I have talked to guys who have had high ankle sprains and, to this day, they say if it's a cold day or a rainy day, they can still feel it. It's something I will have to deal with for a long time. It's not to the point where I can't (play), but it does bother me from time to time."
Even with intensive rehabilitation and sitting for three weeks and parts of others in the middle of the season, Scott believes, "I probably got up to about 85 percent. There were still plays where I would tweak it. It would hurt; I would have to go out and couldn't stay in. I had a lot of plays like that. It was something that made me really cautious and not be able to play up to my abilities, tweaking an ankle and having to come out. So, it was something that nagged the whole season. It was something that kind of got me out of my game. I would go out and I would play, but I wasn't using the technique that I needed. So, it kind of set me back and hurt me. I really didn't get to have the type of season I wanted to have."
Gone was the trademark big play Scott seemed to come up with in 2002. Gone was his ability to dominate at critical moments, such as the fumble he forced from Navarre with only minutes remaining in last year‘s Michigan game.
Sure, he had a good season by most standards with 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and two forced fumbles, but those numbers were nothing close to the bar he had set for himself coming into the season.
Even when discussing the memories he will leave with from Ohio State, you can hear a tone of regret about how this season turned out; "I have a ton of memories, but not one that really stands out. My memories are just going to be of the defensive line. People talk about the guys you play with, and sometimes you just think that it's things you are supposed to say because you played at a college or university, but you know, playing on the defensive line, it was like having friends from since I was little until now. It's a fun memory that I will always have. Playing with guys like Will Smith. He was a guy I got to battle during games when we were both healthy, we would see who would come out with the best stats."
The telling words there: "When we were both healthy."
"I have learned that you have to take life for what it's worth," Scott said. "You can't just float through the days. You have to work hard and not take life for granted. I feel if I had worked harder in the off-season that I may have been in better condition and maybe come back quicker."
So what is next for Scott?
First up is Kansas State. While some are poor mouthing the possibility that Ohio State has something to play for, Scott seems to feel different.
"Oh we definitely have something to play for," he said. "We are playing for a bowl - in a BCS Bowl. I mean, we are playing for something. We are going back to the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe some guys would have liked to go to a different bowl. Since I've been here, we've played in the same two bowls for four years, but I am excited to play against Kansas State. They beat Oklahoma, the number one team in the nation. It's a great challenge, and we're looking forward to it."
What is the motivation? Why is Darrion Scott so ready for the Wildcats? In a word, Michigan. He believes that the Buckeyes were not the same team that day and wants to show the world those were imposters.
"I think guys were just flat," he said. "We stepped into the limelight maybe some of the guys weren't ready. If you watched the sidelines during the game, there was no emotion. There was no emotion on the field when guys would make big plays and stop Michigan and make them punt. There was really no emotion. Guys were just flat. Nobody was getting excited. I think that's really what took its toll. We weren't that same team. We go back and look at the season, guys were always up, cheering and patting guys on the butt. Sidelines were jumping up and down when someone made a play, but it just wasn't there."
So Scott is ready - more than ready - to line up and play that next game. He wants to get that taste of tire tread out of his mouth from the Michigan bus that blindsided the Scarlet and Gray defense nearly a month ago. To him, that only adds to the motivation for this year's Fiesta Bowl.
"It's something I haven't gotten over yet, but it's something that we put behind us," he said. "I hate to talk about it. If we could go back and play that game again, we would love to do it, but it is in the past now. We have moved on. I think it gets you up. I mean, you have to be furious winning the last two against Michigan and then your senior season you lose to Michigan in like - an embarrassing loss. These guys are fired up, everybody out here. We are looking forward to going and playing Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. It's not like everybody's dead because we lost to Michigan. We are looking forward to the next game we get to play to show the world the Buckeyes.
"We want to get back on the field and show what we can do. We want to show that we are the defense everybody thought we were."
Looking beyond the Fiesta Bowl, Scott still has his goal set for the NFL.
"That is what I am hoping for," he said. "I mean, I'm sure I will get my chance, but you know, I'm just trying to fight over these injuries. It's not really bad, but I would like to be 100 percent. Something that I can't have is being 100 percent (and) being able to go out and being able to play to my fullest abilities, but on the same note I have rehabbed enough to where I feel pretty good that I can go out and perform. I'm looking forward to playing in a bowl game…, playing a couple all-star games after the bowl game, and being ready for the draft."
Where Scott will end up on draft day is still uncertain, and what kind of career he might have in ‘the league' is also unknown. So much depends on factors outside of a player's control with coaching changes, personnel moves to save cap room, developing talent, free agent signings, etc.
However, what is certain is that the Buckeyes are going to miss this three-year starter next year.