Seniors D.R. Ebner, Ben Kacsandi, J.D. Larson and Kyle Ruhl rarely see the field, but do not think for a second that they are not important members of the Ohio State football team. Just ask fellow senior Alex Boone about his reaction when he found out the four walk-ons were being placed on scholarship this quarter.
"I can tell you that when it was announced we all got excited and went crazy," Boone said of when Ohio State Jim Tressel told the Buckeyes that the quartet - along with sophomore long snapper Jake McQuaide - were going on scholarship. "They truth is they deserve it. They all do. They've worked really hard and busted their butts. They absolutely deserve those scholarships."
For the seniors, it was both a surprise and a blessing to be put on scholarship during their final football season at Ohio State. Each are on track to graduate in December and have had to scrape by financially while trying to juggle football, classes and work.
"It's definitely a privilege going on scholarship," said Larson, a tight end from Ventura, Calif. "It's awesome to have books and tuition and meals paid for now. You get a lot of money each month. I don't even know how to spend it, but I'm sure my girlfriend will figure that out."
Larson has seen playing time in the Youngstown State, Troy and Minnesota games this season and has played in a handful of other games as a Buckeye. The 6-4, 229-pound senior said he was living on "ramen noodles and hot dogs" during leaner times and did janitorial work at St. John Arena between classes to try to make ends meet.
Larson came to Ohio State thanks in part of a family tie to the university. His sister, Shelaine, was a member of the track and field at OSU and got the Californian interested in the Buckeyes.
"I started watching Ohio State football and I came to a sports camp here when I was in high school," Larson said. "Ohio State was the only school I applied to. I got in and that was that.
"I came here not even knowing what to do. I tried out my sophomore year and made it. I've been on the team for 3½ years, and I've been to two national championship games, won two Big Ten titles and made all the friends in the world. I wouldn't trade this for anything. I've had the greatest time."
To a man, each of the new scholarship Buckeyes had no regrets. Ebner worked as a bouncer at a bar on High Street in Columbus and had the help of supportive parents when times were difficult. The 6-3, 271-pound offensive lineman said he was almost speechless when Tressel told him he was going to receive a scholarship.
"I think I could only just say thank you," Ebner said. "It really helped out a lot. I was really dumbfounded by it. I went out and called my parents and my fiancée. They were all really happy for me."
Ebner is from Hershey, Pa., and decided to attend Ohio State after a lackluster recruiting process. He visited several Division II schools in Pennsylvania, but chose to come to Ohio State and try to walk on. Ebner got a weight room internship at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and hoped that would help him get noticed by the football staff.
Ebner's plan worked, and he was placed on the team's roster during his first week at Ohio State. He has played in two games for the Buckeyes - last season against Northwestern and Kent State.
"Running into the stadium on home game days is amazing," Ebner said. "It's definitely been worth it. I would not change anything if I could do it again."
Ruhl decided to try to walk on at Ohio State because it was close to home. The 6-1, 164-pound wide receiver was a second-team all-Ohio Capital Conference player for Dublin Coffman and is the son of former Buckeye Bruce Ruhl, who played at OSU from 1973-76.
"Playing for Ohio State is something you can't really describe," Ruhl said. "I don't really follow any pro teams. Ohio State was the only team I followed."
Ruhl played a series vs. Youngstown State and also played last season against Northwestern.
"I've been here for five years, and it feels so good to get out there and run around the Shoe," Ruhl said. You play in the Spring Games, but to be in a (regular season) game, you can finally say, ‘I've been out on the field.' "
Like Ruhl, Kacsandi had a tie to Ohio State's football program before becoming a Buckeye. His brother, Joe, was a punter at Ohio State from 1992-93 before transferring to Otterbein, where he finished his collegiate career with the Cardinals. The elder Kacsandi accompanied Kyle on his visit to Ohio State. While there, they checked out the football facilities and happened to meet offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. The younger Kacsandi kept in contact with Bollman and became a preferred walk-on when the Buckeyes needed another quarterback at fall camp.
Yet Kacsandi did not stay at quarterback for long. After the spring of his sophomore year, Kacsandi moved to wide receiver because of a rotator cuff injury.
"Doctors told me if I had surgery I'd be out for a while," Kacsandi said. "So since we had a lot of injuries at receiver at the time, they could me I could save my shoulder and help out at receiver. They left me there and it's worked out since then."
Kacsandi said he took many jobs in order to pursue his dream of being a Buckeye, from retail work to telemarketing to construction. He also credited his parents for helping him along the way.
"I did whatever I could for some extra cash, and I've gotten a lot of help from my parents," Kacsandi said. "I'm forever grateful for them."
Tight end Rory Nicol, a scholarship athlete since arriving at Ohio State in 2004, said the walk-ons have the respect of all of the Buckeyes.
"I don't know if I could do it, and I'm being honest," Nicol said. "They have to put up with a lot of stuff, and to me, when a walk-on sticks it out like they've done it shows how much they care about the university. They wouldn't do it for any other reason. They have my utmost respect."
Now Ebner, Kacsandi, Larson and Ruhl have the financial aid needed to make it to the end of their undergraduate time at Ohio State to go along with the respect.