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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: A Team Player
By Charles Babb
(From Summer 2006 issue)
His senior season was supposed to be his crowning achievement. It was supposed to be a time where his obvious athletic gifts were rewarded. It was supposed to be full of fun, victories, and capped with a playoff run.
Then life intervened.
Walter Dublin and his senior teammates at Sarasota High School in Sarasota, Fla., had wanted to be part of something special. Instead, those hopes first circled and then swirled down the toilet due to injuries.
First, there was the injury of one of their starting defensive tackles. When he separated his shoulder, hard choices were forced upon Dublin and the coaching staff. Playing at 6-3, 227 pounds, with a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, Dublin's best position was coming off the edge.
However, the team was in a bind and the coaches wondered if their star defensive end would play inside.
"We were short a couple of defensive players so for about five of the seven games I was playing inside defensive tackle in a three technique," Dublin said. "I did what I could for the team."
As a result, his statistics didn't begin to match his junior season's 84 tackles (22 for a loss), 14 sacks, and an interception he returned for a touchdown. Accordingly, his stock started dropping with recruiting services.
"They were used to me playing defensive end, and they were ready for me to do big things at D-end," admitted Dublin. "When they moved me to defensive tackle, I wouldn't say I was overshadowed. I just wasn't in (my natural) position, so I didn't stand out as much."
Preseason nominations to the All American Bowl in San Antonio and consideration for the CaliFlorida Bowl and the Max Emfinger Game hung in the balance, but Dublin's numbers were not stacking up.
Still, he was more interested in something else.
"I had been in contact with a lot of college coaches," Dublin said. "I told them what was happening, and they said, ‘Do what you have to do for the team. It shows character, and I am really proud of you for doing that.' I did it for the team. It is a team thing. I want to win; it's not all about the individual stats."
Matters went from bad to worse -- in the seventh game, he suffered a fractured ankle.
Though he said it without rancor, Dublin believes the ankle was injured on a "cheap shot."
"I was running down the field after the play, and some guy came up behind me," he said. "I tried go get back up and run after the play, but I fell down again. It was done to take me out of the game. They had game-planned against me. The first three games I was chop blocked on every single play, but I was still making the plays in the backfield. I was running down the field and somebody just came up and took my legs out."
Without Dublin on the field, Sarasota's team struggled. Despite starting 6-1, they finished just 1-3, including a first-round loss in the playoffs. Dublin's presence might (and probably would) have made a difference as two of the losses were three points or less.
Meanwhile, all of the all-star game invitations and watch lists fell through. Even with 60 tackles, 11 sacks and four blocked punts – most of which came with him playing out of position, he wasn't considered an elite player.
So does all of this upset Dublin? Does it eat on him like it would most high school seniors? Does he believe it hurt the number of scholarships he was offered?
Not a chance.
"I was still getting offers after I was injured," Dublin said. "The college coaches see what I did on film. They know what I am capable of doing. I am 100 percent now, so I am not worried about it. I had a good season overall."
With nearly 35 total offers including a laundry list of prestigious programs like Ohio State, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Iowa, he still had his choice of schools.
This begs the question: why Ohio State? Why in the world would he choose to move over 1,000 miles from home?
For Dublin, the decision was all about his visit.
"I went up there and the players really accept you as part of the team," he said. "That city, that stadium, everything there is just incredible. I fell in love with it."
Yet the visit to Columbus almost didn't happen.
"After I had taken my visit to Minnesota, I really liked it up there," he said. "I liked that city a lot, and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to take another visit, but my mom was like, ‘You know what, I have been to Ohio. You need to just take that visit. It is a free visit. You might really like that school because I like that school.'
"I took the visit but told them (his mom and his head coach Jeff Perkins) if it wasn't anything extremely special I was going to commit to Minnesota."
It was with an almost prejudicial air that Dublin arrived in Columbus. He favored the Golden Gophers and wanted, no demanded, the Buckeyes impress him – or else lose him to a Big Ten rival.
He was blown away.
"The people there, they support that team so much," Dublin said of Ohio State and Columbus. "They just love football up there. That is a real, real football town. There are only a few of those in the U.S., and that's one of the places where worldwide people know the Ohio State Buckeyes and people support Ohio State. I want to be a part of that. It's special. It's really special up there.
"It is pretty blatant everywhere you go (laughing). Everyone is talking about Ohio State football. Older people, teenagers, and even the children, they love the Buckeyes. With a stadium that big, 105,000 people every game, and it is sold out every game – it doesn't get much better than that."
More importantly Dublin fell head over heels for the Buckeye coaching staff and head coach Jim Tressel.
"Coach Tressel is an amazing coach on and off the field," Dublin said. "He really cares about the players up there. When I sat down with him, it wasn't all about football. We didn't even talk about football. Every other school I went to the head coach was, ‘We want to win, and we want championships.'
"When I sat down with him, he asked, ‘What do you want out of your experience at Ohio State? What are you looking to accomplish in life outside of football?' That really stood out. You could see it in the players. They are all doing pretty well. They are all pretty successful. They are getting their degrees, and their graduation rate is amazing."
He contrasted Tressel's approach to at least one other school on his list. Since they too were a top flight school with more than its fair share of conference championships, the coaching staff waved their rings in his faces and told him point blank that if he wanted a ring he needed to play for their university.
Their plan backfired, Dublin said.
"That's not what I am concerned about," he said. "My mom always told me it is about education first and football second. That stands true with me. I want to go up there and get a degree before I even think about going (to the NFL). I have always had the dream to go to the pros, but you have to have something to fall back on."
His mother, April Gillespie, will miss him but is pretty thrilled with the decision and laughed as she talked about how much Dublin enjoyed his visit.
"Did he tell you he called me at 2 a.m. and said, ‘This is it, I love it?' That was at 2 a.m.," she said.
Like any mother whose son is away from home, her heart skipped a beat when she picked up the phone and heard his voice. She was afraid that any one of a number of the fears that cause parents to lose sleep might have come true. She was concerned her son needed her help.
That wasn't the case at all; her son was simply so excited he couldn't hold it in any longer.
"It scared me," she admitted. "It really did scare me. He has never called me at 2 a.m. I was thankful it was him saying it was how much he loved Ohio. That was Sunday morning/Saturday night I guess. He was in his hotel room. He was coming home on Sunday. I said, ‘We can talk about it. Are you sure? When you get home lets talk about it, and if that is the case we can get the ball rolling.'
"He came home, and he was just beaming. He loved Coach Tressel, and when I met Coach Tressel I liked him, too. I felt comfortable. That in of itself is a tribute to him because Scooter -- we call him Scooter -- is a pretty good person at reading people."
After talking it over briefly, "Scooter" was so enamored that he cancelled his visit to Clemson and committed to the Buckeyes on Jan. 9 with the blessing of his mother and his head coach. A day later, they announced his decision to the media, and he hasn't wavered.
These days Dublin is staying busy preparing for the next step. Aside from raising his core grade point average by taking night classes over the past year, he trains with the Ohio State workout and is moving to Columbus in the middle of June. He hopes to learn the ropes from current players and get a head start on this fall.
"(Right) now he is in his room packing," remarked his mother, Ms. Gillespie. "I said, ‘I couldn't get you to clean the room for 18 years and now you are in here packing? He has boxes, and he is just ready. I don't even know what is in those boxes. He has been gaining weight; he can't fit in any of his clothes. He is boxing clothes he can't even fit in (laughing). He grew another inch. He is 6-4, 245 now. I'll go through them later; I'm letting him have his moment."
Not only that, but if the doctor is right he may not be done yet.
"The doctor said he might grow another inch or two," she said. "He had hit his hand or something about a year ago, and they X-rayed the hand. There was space in there (in the bone cavity). The doctor said, ‘Do you see that? He isn't even filled out.' He was 6-3 then and has grown the one inch. So, maybe he'll be 6-5? That is a good height."
A 6-5, 250-pound defensive end with sub 4.6 speed is not just good; they have the potential to be great. Maybe this is why Buckeye coaches are probably just as anxious to have Dublin in Columbus as he is to get there. Slotted for their Leo position, a role that requires a great deal of flexibility and athleticism, the coaches are obviously expecting a great deal.
While he is ready to compete for playing time and hopes to hurry the process along with his early arrival, Dublin concedes, "Whatever they want me to do. I will do it for the team. If they tell me I need a year to redshirt and get a little better, I will accept that. I would hate to sit out of football for a whole year and not be able to play on Saturdays, but if it would help the team I'll do it."
Even if he doesn't play this year, Gillespie is thrilled just to see her son succeed.
"I'm so proud of him; you can't even imagine," she said. "It's a blessing for one and is a dream of his for two. You don't usually get a blessing and have your child live a dream, too. It is a special thing for him. I want to make sure he feels like it."
Undoubtedly, he will feel it, and he won't have to wait too long. Dublin will feel the waves of cheers cascade across him as he runs out of the tunnel. He won't be just packing or looking forward to donning the Scarlet and Gray. He will be one of the precious few that don't just pursue but actually gets to live his dream.