Of the 13 players on the active who will be honored Saturday before the No. 1 Buckeyes final home game of the season against Illinois, just one – senior tackle Kirk Barton – entered OSU as a member of the class 2003 and is now a fifth-year senior. One other, fullback Dionte Johnson, came in with a scholarship in 2004 and is exhausting his eligibility in just his fourth year.
Most of the other 11 have taken the road less traveled by to get to their moment in the sun in front of a filled Ohio Stadium before kickoff Saturday. One, like Larry Grant, came to OSU as a junior college transfer. Others, like kicker Andrew Good or long snapper Jackson Haas, transferred in as a non-scholarship player after getting a chance at another school. Others still, like receiver Brent Ullery, spent their entire careers as walk-ons wearing scarlet and gray.
Some, like fullbacks Tyler Whaley and Trever Robinson, earned scholarships in their time at OSU after coming to OSU as walk-ons. Some, like defensive end Brett Daly, came as walk-ons and improved to the point that they have earned a regular role on the nation's top ranked team. Some, like receiver David Lisko, have rarely gotten the chance to step onto the Ohio Stadium turf.
But one thing is for sure: they are all Buckeyes.
"I'll never forget these times," Good said. "Even if we weren't having as good a season as we are, I would still never forget these times. It's still a tremendous opportunity to play for Coach (Jim) Tressel and play with all these guys."
Most fans know Barton, a four-year starter at right tackle who will merit All-Big Ten consideration at the end of his senior season. Johnson, the son of OSU great Pepper Johnson, is also a captain and just as easily jumps to mind when thinking of seniors. However, many of the more interesting stories belong to some of the walk-ons, who all say they wouldn't trade their experiences for anything.
Take Daly, for instance. The 6-6, 255-pound Elyria, Ohio, native looked at some Ivy League and Division III schools to play both football and basketball before settling on Case Western Reserve University, a private research university outside Cleveland. However, the itch to play stayed with Daly, who contacted former defensive backs coach Mel Tucker in an effort to transfer to OSU.
"They still had me on the preferred walk-on list," Daly said. "I met with him in his office and said I wanted to walk on the team and wanted to know what the process would be to do that and he was like, ‘All right, I'll set you up with the right people and we'll get this thing going.'"
Then there's Haas, who originially attended OSU and tried out for the team but did not make it. From there, he left for Ohio University but thought he could make the Buckeyes, so he came back to give it another try.
"I didn't feel like I was meant to be there from when I first got there to playing through and getting opportunities to play there," the Youngstown native said. "I never felt like I was at home."
Most of OSU's senior walk-ons have had to spend most of their careers on the scout team, mimicking the alignments and plays of upcoming opponents and giving the first and second teams a chance to practice against what they will be seeing on Saturdays. Tressel has frequently sung the praises of players that have not only had to learn OSU's schemes but a different opposing scheme every week.
"It's just learning a little bit different of technique," Daly said. "You just have to watch a little bit of film and see how they do things differently. The coaches do a good job of telling us exactly what we need to do."
It sounds like a lot of work to not reach the reward of much playing time, but Lisko, of nearby Hilliard, said setting an example is an important part of what he has done during his career.
"Giving a good example to the younger guys is part of it, working hard in the classroom is a part of it – just generally working hard every day, day in and day out," he said. "We might not play on Saturdays, and that's the showcase of what happens, but it takes a lot of work up to that and we do all the work."
When it comes to playing time, each of the 12 current players OSU will honor Saturday have at least reached the field, and many have carved out roles for themselves. Daly, who is on scholarship for his final season, is a member of OSU's field goal unit, charged with protecting kicker Ryan Pretorius from oncoming traffic. Dan Dye of Napoleon, Ohio, is also on that unit and has worked with OSU's second offensive line this year. Good has earned eight kickoffs, knocking one for a touchback against Purdue.
Haas is Ohio State's field goal snapper, splitting the long-snapping role with fellow senior Dimitrious Makridis, who handles punts. Both Trever Robinson, who came to OSU from Richmond, Va., after taking a liking to the Silver Bullets' swagger, and Tyler Whaley have earned scholarships and are Johnson's backups. Lisko and Ullery each saw limited time during OSU's Sept. 22 win over Northwestern.
The only one to not make it: cornerback De'Angelo Haslam, who has suffered a career-ending injury.
"You always feel like you're contributing," Daly said. "But being able to get on the field for every game, that really makes it special. It's really exciting to just step on the field every day and really contribute on game days."