Underwood was pushing for playing time at cornerback. In fact, he says a decision had been made for him to become a regular at corner so Chris Gamble could devote more of his time to helping OSU's struggling offense.
But Underwood's season came to screeching halt after the fourth game, a win over Bowling Green. Underwood suffered a season-ending injury when he cut his hand on a piece of glass.
Because he had played in four games, Underwood was not eligible for a medical redshirt. He returned to the team this spring and will be a third-year junior in the fall. But the good news is he is firmly in the mix at the cornerback position.
In fact, he had OSU head coach Jim Tressel singing his praises after a recent practice session.
"E.J. Underwood is a guy who has made a couple of big plays here this spring," Tressel said. "Consistency is the key, especially when you are a corner. You better be good all the time and consistent because if you make a mistake out there, there is no one out there behind you to make up for it.
"E.J. has shown he is going to make some plays. I don't know anybody who has been around here since I have that has more ability than E.J. and that includes Derek Ross or Chris Gamble or any of those guys, so we have some high hopes for him."
"I feel real confident," said Underwood, a native of Hamilton, Ohio. "I've been out here for three years and the game just seems to be slowing down tremendously. I feel like a senior in high school again. I feel like I've been at the bottom and I know I just have to keep getting better and go out every day and put the time in."
Underwood actually had a chance to make an impact early in his freshman season during the 2002 national championship run. He batted away a critical pass in the end zone on the final series of the win at Cincinnati. But when he was beaten deep for a pass in the narrow win at Wisconsin, Gamble moved by him and became a two-way starter on offense and defense.
Ironically, Underwood, a corner by nature, spent some time tutoring Gamble on the position.
"Me and Chris were boys," Underwood said. "Any time he had any questions I would try and help him out. I think that was a good learning experience for me. We wish he was here again to help us, but we have to go on."
Last year was hard to take, Underwood said, after the injury denied him a chance to move into the lineup.
"That just made me a stronger person," he said. "When you get hurt like that before the fifth game, it is hard. I just tried to look at the positives, watch a lot of film and support my teammates. It was a wild experience for me to have a break like I did. But I think I have bounced back. I stayed positive and prayed to God every day.
"I was about to be starting when I got hurt. But God does things for a reason and my time wasn't then."
Gamble opted to leave OSU a year early to enter the NFL draft, leaving an opening at corner.
"I hope now is my time to become a part of that cornerback tradition here at Ohio State," Underwood said.
The 6-1, 175-pound Underwood has the size to go up against all sizes of receivers.
"We enjoy the competition against the receivers," he said last week. "Santonio Holmes today caught his first pass against me this spring and we've been out here for five days. The DBs are like a family. We just try and go out on the field and go against the guy across from you."
One area OSU will be looking to the secondary this year will be in run support.
"I think we will be a lot more physical this year," he said. "We hit every day here and we're not against coming up and making a play when we have to."
Of course, Underwood is aware of a much ballyhooed signee who will join the team in the fall in Cleveland Glenville standout Ted Ginn Jr., the USA Today national defensive player of the year this past fall. Ginn figures to join the competition at corner.
"I'm not worried about anybody," Underwood said.
He is interested in getting another incoming freshman on campus as soon as possible. That is his brother, Brandon Underwood, who also projects as a cornerback.
"It is going to be neat to have my little brother here," Underwood said. "Throughout the whole recruiting process, it was fun to watch him. He saw me have a chance to get recruited and then he went through it, too. He came here because he likes it here and he likes the coaches we have here."