The Class That Ceased To Be

It was a class ranked anywhere from 10th to 40th in the nation, and in the final year of eligibility just one player remains. Take a look back at the class of 2003 and how some of the players -- like Ira Guilford -- who were part of it are viewing it now.

CHICAGO – Riding high after capturing the school's seventh national championship, head coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes welcomed in a 14-member recruiting class to mixed reviews. Ranked anywhere from 10th to 40th in the country and headlined by five-star cornerback prospect Donte Whitner from Cleveland Glenville, Tressel said he felt "extraordinarily good" about the players the Buckeyes landed.

Now, as the class of 2003 enters its final year of eligibility, that sentiment does not appear to have aged well. Of the 14 members to sign on the dotted line on national signing day, just one remains: offensive tackle Kirk Barton, who turned down overtures to head to the NFL following his junior season.

"It's not unlike watching an empire crumble, I mean if you can call the 2003 recruiting class an empire," he said. "Piece by piece it's just crumbling; a guy here, a guy there. Now it's down to one brick."

Barton aside, there are two sides to the class of 2003: the good and the bad. On the former side, there are four players suiting up this fall on NFL rosters. Three of them were selected in the first round of the draft. The one who was not – defensive lineman David Patterson – actually left after four years, having graduated and exhausted his eligibility.

But on the other side of the equation are the other nine players who fell by the wayside for one reason or another. Predictably, some are no longer on the roster at OSU for reasons that are less distracting than others.

Some, like safety prospect Curt Lukens and wideout Devin Jordan were held back from achieving their potential by career-ending injuries. Some, like Darius Hiley, were dismissed from the team for academic reasons.

Others were more noteworthy with their dismissal from the team. Tight end Louis Irizarry and tailback Ira Guilford, four- and three-star prospects, respectively, were both arrested in the spring of 2004 and dismissed from school after being charged with assaulting a fellow student.

Irizarry is now a tight end at Youngstown State, OSU's first opponent this season, while Guilford will be playing for Division-III William Paterson University in his home state of New Jersey this season.

Having the class scattered to all ends of the country was not what Guilford said they had in mind when their OSU careers began.

"When we all came in together, we didn't have a big class as far as in terms of numbers, but we had some quality guys," he said. "I definitely felt like we were going to make some noise."

That sentiment turned out to be true for mixed reasons. Entering the final year of eligibility for the class, Tressel said it is hard to judge the class because of the two extremes to which its members seem to have been separated.

"Very great, or not very great," he said of the class. "There were some extraordinary guys in that class that are … in the NFL. There's no question it was a feast-or-famine type of group."

The overall class size was hindered by the fact that the Buckeyes returned a large contingent of seniors. Overall, the 2004 OSU squad had to replace 26 seniors.

As players began to fall by the wayside, players used to tease guys like Barton who were still around. As time went on, however, the jokes began to cease.

"We did used to joke about it a lot but now it's kind of dwindled now that Kirk's the lone guy," senior Dionte Johnson said. "We try to stay away from talking about it. It's part of life. You learn that growing up, too. Some of your friends who could've been greater athletes or great students, you lose them as well. It's just part of life."

Johnson said he remains in contact with tight end Marcel Frost, who was facing a one-year suspension from the team and opted to transfer to Jackson State. Barton said he used to talk to Irizarry and Sian Cotton, who were teammates at Youngstown State until recently, but that his friendship with Irizarry fizzled out due to personal differences.

"He's still big, but he's just a sad case," Barton said of Irizarry. "He really could've been, and he might still be something, I don't know, but if he would have stuck it out for four years at Ohio State, who knows what he could be right now. He could run as good as anyone for his size as I'd ever seen.

"Even the guys I talked to like Bobby Carpenter, they said he's so hard to cover. He's so fast and strong."

Despite their status as the class that has almost ceased to exist, Johnson said the former Buckeyes will remain united.

"Some of the people did kind of get away from school and football and things like that and I wish them the best, but when I see them we're still speaking," he said. "We're still a team. Brotherhood is first, so we stay in touch."

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