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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Each senior class is special. That's what every college football coach will tell you. But when Urban Meyer talks about his first senior class at Ohio State, he has reasons to back it up.
Thanks to sanctions that stemmed from a cash and tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal that included a bowl ban for the 2012 Buckeyes, this year's seniors could have transferred out of Columbus without having to sit out the season that most college football players are forced to when they switch schools. And judging by the team's initial reaction to the penalties, it appeared that at least a few of them would take the NCAA up on its offer.
"We were in the hospital visiting patients and that's when it broke. It was on TVs, on ESPN," OSU safety Zach Domicone recalled. "People were like, 'How do you feel that you can't play in a bowl game?' and we were like, 'What are you talking about?'"
Domicone described the news as "shocking," which is understandable considering that he and his teammates had been assured by the school's athletic director that a bowl ban would not be a part of the Buckeyes' punishment.
"Gene Smith had come in numerous times and told us there wouldn't be a bowl game. I don't think anyone saw it coming," Domicone said. "Everyone was kind of at a loss for words. People were angry."
Instead of using that anger to motivate them to move on to new schools, the 21 Ohio State seniors-to-be used as motivation for the upcoming season. Not a single one of those players used the loophole to leave OSU, almost to the surprise of Meyer, who was just a few weeks into his new as the Buckeyes' head coach.
"I love them," Meyer said of his seniors. "They had a new staff coming in, they were told they were going to be ineligible to play in a bowl game and they had a free pass to go anywhere in the country they wanted to go. To a man, they stayed. To a man, they improved. And to a man, I'd say they've had their best year off football."
Ohio State defensive end John Simon, who Meyer has referred to as the "heart and soul" of the 2012 Buckeyes, said that the thought of transferring away from OSU never even crossed his mind.
"I can speak for myself personally, when I committed to be a Buckeye, I'm a Buckeye through and through, and I wanted to play my four years and be here as long as I can," Simon said. "It's a team sport. We love our teammates, we would never consider even leaving those guys."
The commitment to Ohio State from Simon, as well as seniors like Zach Boren, Reid Fragel, Etienne Sabino, Garrett Goebel, Nathan Williams, and Jake Stoneburner, has not only led to success on the field for the Buckeyes this fall, but great stories off of it. In Boren's case, it was a move from fullback to middle linebacker midway through this season that helped stabilize an OSU defense that found itself influx through the team's first seven games.
"You want someone to write a book on wow, that would be good if you go write a book on Zach Boren," Meyer said. "On a Tuesday before Indiana steps in and plays. Four periods later, 20 minutes later he's a starting linebacker, middle linebacker at Ohio State."
Fragel's tale also deals with a position change, only his happened before the season when he moved from tight end to right tackle. But unlike Boren, who transitioned to defense seamlessly, there were some growing pains in Fragel's transformation.
"At the time, I guess, I knew I wasn't obviously where I needed to be at the position, and I knew it would take time," Fragel said. "I knew what I could do at the position, and I knew that if I pushed myself hard enough, where I could be at."
From Sabino's return from a fractured fibula to Stoneburner's two touchdowns against California, the Buckeyes' senior class is littered with individual success stories. But this Saturday, they'll have a chance to leave a collective footprint in the Ohio State program, when they'll attempt to finish off just the sixth undefeated season in school history.
And given what these seniors gave to Meyer by staying, the the first-year Buckeyes' head coach says he owes it to this class to help it accomplish just that.
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