The saying does not apply as well to men, but Dan Herron's freshman season could be described as being similar to "always a groomsman, never a groom."
The Warren (Ohio) Harding product turned heads in preseason practice, and as late as the Tuesday prior to OSU's season-opening win against Youngstown State, Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel said the coaching staff was still debating whether to play Herron or not.
But now, as the Buckeyes go through bowl practices and find themselves preparing for another shot at a national championship, it would take a serious calamity for Herron to see the field before the 2008 season opener. Rather than be bitter about sitting out for the entirety of his freshman season, though, Herron was upbeat when discussing the situation.
"I think it was just something I had to go through," he said. "It's made me better. Me taking this redshirt, I think it was a good thing for me. Next year I'll be a better person. I'll know everything and I'll be good."
A four-star tailback out of high school, Herron rushed for 1,434 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. Head coach Thom McDaniels told BuckeyeSports.com that Herron is the second-best tailback he has ever coached, behind former Buckeye Maurice Clarett.
But praise like that was not enough for him to get on the field this season. It took until the Buckeyes had finished off visiting Akron in week two that Herron said he felt his redshirt was going to be a permanent one.
Not seeing game action did not prevent Herron from making an impact on the team, however. Working on the scout team, he was twice named the offensive player of the week and twice the special units player of the week as well.
Prior to the team's game against Penn State, he brought home player of the week honors for both units. At his press luncheon the following week, Tressel praised the body of work Herron had put forth.
"Dan Herron is going to be a tremendous football player and he gives great effort," he said. "He's tough. He's willing to do anything that the team needs, just like he's willing to redshirt, certainly could be willing to contribute both on special teams and offense. What the team needs right now is what he's doing and he's more than willing to do that."
By being redshirted, Herron has managed to put a year of eligibility between himself and the other backs under scholarship at OSU, including classmate Brandon Saine.
The decision whether or not to play Herron was basically revisited on a week-by-week basis during the season.
"Like five times a day the discussion happens," Tressel said in late September, prior to the Minnesota game. "We were in the special teams meeting this morning and some guys said, ‘It sounds like Herron might get that redshirt off, can I have him at this spot or that spot?' We're going to prepare (Herron) like he's going to make the difference at Minnesota, and if that's the case, then let's go."
At times it looked as if the coaches were going to have to burn Herron's redshirt. Saine underwent knee surgery during the season and starter Chris Wells battled a variety of injuries throughout the year, leaving just Herron and Maurice Wells as the healthy scholarship backs. As a result, Herron remained part of the traveling squad.
Following OSU's lone loss of the season to Illinois, his chances for playing time never looked brighter. Saine was dressed in street clothes by the end of the contest and Maurice Wells had to be helped into the locker room after suffering an ankle injury.
Both returned to action the following week against Michigan, however.
"There were a lot of games where we had a couple of injuries, guys hurt," he said. "There were a lot of times where they almost pulled my redshirt, but I'm glad they didn't. Plenty of times I put my helmet on thinking there might be a chance I'd go into the game, but they held out on me."
In addition to gaining a greater understanding of the team's playbook, Herron said he has used the time to bulk up and gain more speed. The latest roster shows him weighing in at 5-10, 190 – ten pounds lighter than when he got to campus.
The end result will likely be a shiftier, more knowledgeable back who will be ready to prove his worth next season.
"I've learned everything I need to learn," Herron said. "I've learned the offense, I've learned all the plays and now I feel like I'm very comfortable. When I go in to play a game, I'll be very comfortable."