Junior cornerback Donald Washington and senior safety Jamario O'Neal will both miss the first two games of the season due to suspension, the duo confirmed to reporters during the team's annual photo day.
Although O'Neal was not pegged as a starter, the loss thins out a defensive backs corps that has already taken two blows in the form of Eugene Clifford (transferred out of the program) and James Scott (suspended for fall camp).
"It's going to be the hardest two weeks of my life," Washington said. "To miss out on something that I love doing, the opening games in Ohio Stadium, those are two games I'll never get back. It's going to hurt."
Washington has started 22 games in the past two seasons including all 13 last year while O'Neal has been utilized in a reserve role. Washington finished last season with 39 tackles and one interception – which he returned 70 yards for a touchdown against Kent State – while O'Neal recorded 14 tackles.
Although the players declined to specify exactly what had happened, the suspensions are consistent with the university policy for a second failed drug test, which triggers an automatic two-game suspension.
Despite the obvious negativity of the situation, Washington has been working to turn it into a positive.
"It was an immature mistake and I've learned from it and I'm more mature from it," he said. "It's also helped shape me into somewhat of a leader. I've always tried to be a leader on this team, but ever since then I've become more mature. I try to spread that throughout the team, show them how to react if they're in that situation and how to handle it."
It seems safe to say they have been paying attention.
"I've definitely got the message," Washington said. "I got the message once I realized what it cost me. Not only did it affect me, but it affects a lot of guys. Not just guys on the team, but it affected my family. That was probably the hardest thing that I had to learn, that things that I do don't only affect me. There's a lot of people that are affected by the things I do, whether they be good or bad."
During the spring, OSU head coach Jim Tressel mentioned that the players were in some sort of trouble and would have to work to "earn their car keys back." In the most recent depth chart, Washington is listed as the primary backup to sophomore Chimdi Chekwa who started one game last season as the team's nickel back.
Both appear to have taken the idea of earning their keys back to heart, as O'Neal described his focus in practice since learning he would have to miss games.
"If you don't get to play for the first few weeks, the only thing they have to go off of is practice," O'Neal said. "If you're ballin' in practice, once you come back they'll want to put you in because they know you can make the plays. That's what I've been doing. I've intercepted a few passes here and there, made sure I know my stuff, being in the right place and being able to help my teammates out."
Washington echoed his teammate's thoughts.
"Now I've put a little chip on my shoulder and I've just got to move on and take my situation and turn it into a positive and use it as motivation," he said. "I can't play the first two games. That's the reality of it. Those are facts. Now it's the way I handle it. I can mope around and hang my head but I can't do that. I keep my head high because there's still games after those first two."
Games like the one out west against the Trojans, for example.