Middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel is finally back in a starting role.
He was an All-Mountain West selection at Air Force in 2002, but had to sit out last season after transferring to Ohio State. This year, he was a backup until Mike D'Andrea went down with a season-ending knee injury. Now, Schlegel is the man in the middle for the Silver Bullets.
"I'm just here to do what the team needs me to do," Schlegel said. "I've already been a starter in college football. I started 19 games before I got here and I know what to do when you're in there. So, I just go out every day and practice as hard as I can to be the best and do what I can to help this team."
Schlegel is glad his playing time is on the rise, but wishes D'Andrea did not get injured. He and D'Andrea are close friends.
"There's no sweetness to feeling about anybody getting injured," Schlegel said when asked if the injury was bittersweet for him. "Mike and I both go to Bible study and we talk together. We prayed about his injury and for a fast recovery and there's nothing good about someone getting hurt. It just so happens that we play the same spot. We've been competing and now I've got to go and fill that spot myself, but I wish all the best for Mike. He's having surgery today, so keep him in your prayers."
No one wants to win a spot based solely on injury. Schlegel wants to know he earned the starting nod based on his talents.
"It's tough," he said. "I've done what I can - just playing football the way I know how to play. I fell that I've earned the right to step in here and make a contribution just from what I've done. That's why Mike and I have been splitting time the whole time. We've been pretty close in everything, but that's what makes Ohio State great is competition. The quarterback thing that we heard about for an hour, you know, that's going to make everyone better. That's what you want. Same thing with Tyler Everett and Donte Whitner."
Schlegel knows the defense must improve if the Buckeyes are going to turn their season around. He doesn't feel the unit played poorly in the loss to Wisconsin, he just thinks the Badgers stepped up and made big plays when they had to.
"Our main focus, honestly, is making the plays," Schlegel said. "Making the big plays. Because if you noticed, (Wisconsin) tried to go out there and run the ball. (Anthony Davis) had that one long run - the touchdown run - and he had a long run on the last drive. Other than that, there really wasn't a lot of rushing that he did. The big parts of the game, they would try and run it on first and second down, then they would throw up a touchdown pass. Three plays. If we eliminate those three plays, the game would be different. That's the biggest thing: just executing and we'll be better."
As if the hour-long questions lobbed at Jim Tressel regarding OSU's quarterback situation weren't enough, Schlegel was also asked to chime in.
"What do we feel about the quarterback situation? I'm happy I'm not Coach Tressel," he said. "That's exactly how we all feel because it's tough. Me being in a spot where we were competing for a position, that's a tough situation to be in and I will tell you that it is not any of our responsibilities to talk about it. Honestly, we don't really talk about it. We just want to win and whoever Coach Tressel thinks is the best for us to go out there and win is who we're going to back. They're both great guys - I know them both real well."
Schlegel was asked if some players think Troy Smith should be getting more opportunities.
"That's what is so great about our team, that's one of the reasons why I came up here is that you don't hear it very much in the locker room," he said. "That's because everyone is focused on what they have to do to get better, instead of just like, 'Who's playing?' And that's why I feel that we're going to bounce back and still have a great season this year because everybody is focused on how they could do better. Honestly, you really don't hear about who is playing in the locker room."
There is no downplaying the importance of the Iowa game this week. If the Bucks lose, they will be fighting just to be bowl eligible at 3-3. If they win, they will be back to 4-2 with a game against hapless Indiana on the horizon.
"It's really huge," Schlegel said. "This is a key game. It's time to go. This is vital for us to get to a BCS bowl, if possible, to be 6-2 in the Big Ten. This game is crucial because we've got to go from here. We lost to Northwestern, Wisconsin we didn't execute and now we've got to go into Iowa City and do it, which is a tough task and they've already had a bye week. So, every week just keeps getting harder and harder, but we've got to do it this week."
Schlegel is a well-spoken, optimistic young man. He is convinced that the Buckeyes are going to turn things around and have a quality season.
"I think it's just the resolve of our guys," he said. "Just talking with A.J. (Hawk) after the game and seeing how hard we practiced last week, I think it's going to be the exact same way today and all this week and it's just going to come out on the field. We want to want to be the best defense in the country and we haven't been playing that way, but we know we can. It's just getting everything together and practicing hard and doing it in Iowa City."
Schlegel has 24 tackles on the season (12 solo). He is coming off his best statistical game as he totaled nine tackles against Wisconsin (2 solo). Schlegel gave a quick evaluation of his season thus far.
"Well, we played a bunch of nickel the first couple games and I was rolling in there and did all right," he said. "Then, I felt that I played OK (the Wisconsin) game. At first, I thought I had a good game, then after watching it I was like, 'It was OK,' because certain fits weren't there.
"Our defense is a fit. You know, when guys come outside Bobby (Carpenter) fills, I come outside, I fill, A.J. comes over and makes the tackle. It's awesome. You know, and I don't care because I like hitting offensive linemen, but that's just how our defense is and I thought if I could have been a little better on my fits, I would have had a better game."
Schlegel knows the talent in the Big Ten is quite a bit better than what he faced at Air Force.
"As far as the Mountain West, I played against great linemen against Utah and Notre Dame, but the Big Ten is very physical and I'm excited to be playing against Iowa this week," he said. "I like playing in the Big Ten."
There has been some talk that Schlegel is carrying some extra weight compared to his days at Air Force, but he says he has just gained about five pounds.
"I played around 240 there and I'm at 245 now," he said.