Da da da. Da da da.
Six syllables. I got to the sideline and that’s all I could hear. All of my teammates were looking at me, smiling, shouting — singing. Even the coaches were doing it. Heck, even the waterboys were doing it. It was surreal. Like, a hundred-plus people, standing on the sideline: looking, smiling, shouting, singing. At me. And they were all singing the exact same thing — the same six syllables.
Da da da. Da da da.
Yup, that’s the SportsCenter theme music. That was our inside joke as a team. When someone makes a play? Yeah, you know — you pat’em on the back, you chest-bump’em, you say, “Nice play,” you tap helmets, that sort of thing. But when someone … makes a play?
Da da da. Da da da.
When the team does that for you, that means you did a little something extra. That means you left your mark. That means they know, at that very second, that they’ll be watching what you just did, again — over and over and over again. On SportsCenter.
Da da da. Da da da.
That means you didn’t just make a play. It means you made a moment.
Some moments, of course, take longer to make than others. That play against Virginia Tech happened in five seconds — but it took me five years to get there.
Actually, it took me 23 years.
Long before I ever played a down at Ohio State, I was a Buckeye fan.
I was raised only 40 minutes from The Horseshoe, so the school had a constant presence in my life. There were so many amazing players that had come through — Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Jack Tatum. These were guys I viewed almost as superheroes.
I was only 10 years old when we faced off against the Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. It’s all still pretty vivid in my mind. That Miami team was basically an NFL squad — they were stacked at every single position. How were we supposed to beat these guys? I was so nervous, man. I was pacing back and forth in my room … then running to my parents’ room … then back to my room. The entire game, I was like that. I couldn’t sit still.
By the time we finally won in double overtime and held up that crystal football — yeah, it was “we” even then — I must have jogged 10 miles around my house.
After that game, it was all over. My fanhood went to another level … and there was no turning back. My biggest goal in life became simple: to get accepted to The Ohio State University, to put on that scarlet and gray uniform, and to one day play football for the — my — Buckeyes.
Can you imagine anything better?
When the big day finally came, I signed my national letter of intent with no hesitation. I’d dreamt it, and then I’d done it. It almost felt like destiny.
That first season, I was named Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year. But what many people don’t know is that I was also named (by me) the conference’s (unofficial) Recruiter of the Year. That’s right: when prized recruits came to Columbus to visit — players who had their choice of attending any college they wanted to, really — I took it upon myself to sell them on joining our program. And when I sold them on the Buckeyes, I did it with both of my hats on: “current player,” of course — but also “lifelong fan.” I sold them on our decorated past (sorry again, Miami), our resilient present, and our promising future — the future of Buckeyes Football that we could be a part of building, together.
And it worked.
Then, once Coach Meyer got here, everything really worked. The culture shifted immediately. Coach Meyer taught us how to carry ourselves like professionals. And he taught us how to apply that pro’s mentality to every single part of our lives: in the classroom, at practice, and then eventually, finally, on game day. Coach demanded nothing short of perfection from us — and our very first year, that’s what we gave him. A perfect 12-0 record.
It was all, suddenly, coming together. Until — just as suddenly — it almost all fell apart.
I’ve made what seems like a million throws in my lifetime. This particular one I made during a practice leading up to my senior season could only have been described as routine. But when I felt that pain rush up my arm, I knew something was really wrong. I was right. Shortly after, I had surgery on what turned out to be a torn labrum — the second serious shoulder injury I’d had in a year. I was out for the entire season.
As an athlete, there really is nothing scarier than suffering a serious injury that you don’t fully understand. And that’s why I can’t thank the training staff at Ohio State enough for their guidance after the injury happened. The school served as my support network throughout — setting me up with some of the best doctors in the world to make sure that I got healed up properly. I also owe a lot to Kristen Holbrook, my physical therapist, for personally assisting me throughout my rehab and constantly encouraging me the entire way. I always knew I was in great hands, and I’m very thankful for all of the hard work that everyone at school put into helping me get better.
And I’m thankful for the Buckeye fans as well. I don’t know that there’s another organization or community that rallies around its own quite like ours does. Buckeye Nation: I was in awe of the unwavering loyalty you showed me, and the stream of well wishes you sent me, as I went through the rehab process. If I could have personally thanked each of you individually, I would have. But just know that none of your words of encouragement went unnoticed.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings I had while watching my boys win it all last season.
On one hand, it was so gratifying. We were a dominant football team, and we were able to assert our will against any opponent. Everything I’d envisioned for us, as a program, it finally came true — except for one small part. I wasn’t on the field. That killed me. That part was heartbreaking, honestly. But at the same time, it was still an awesome experience: to get to watch the Buckeyes — my Buckeyes — accomplish something that I had truly helped to build toward.
To get to watch them become champions.
Of course, while I was hurt and J.T. and Cardale found success, everyone began speculating that I was going to transfer. But if you want to know the truth: that thought never really crossed my mind. In my mind, it all came down to one question.
Why would I ever leave Ohio State?
Want to know what’s funny? That whole time, while people were speculating about what school I was going to transfer to, J.T. and Cardale were working out with me. They were throwing me balls, and I was catching them. Early in the morning, and then again at night: we worked hard, and we worked together — as they learned to be better quarterbacks, and as I learned my new position at wide receiver.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. And we kept it all under wraps. But those private workouts with J.T. and Cardale … that was when I really felt my confidence return, and figured out that I could do this.
Then I started practicing against our DBs … and the whole team figured it out as well.
Then I made one spin move …
… and the entire nation figured it out.
Da da da. Da da da.
But like I said: it meant a lot more to me than just getting on SportsCenter.
It meant I’d persevered. It meant I’d recovered. It meant that, after everything I’d been through, I’d made it all the way back — and then some. It meant that finally, again, I was able to do the one thing that I had always wanted more than anything else: to help Ohio State win football games.
My time in Columbus has meant the world to me, and has shaped me into the man I am today. I’ve felt such tremendous highs, and I’ve experienced such trying lows. But now that I’ve gone through it all, I feel ready for whatever awaits me on the other side. I don’t fear adversity. I don’t fear the spotlight. I don’t fear success. And I don’t fear failure. I’m stepping toward this new chapter of my life with a confidence that I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the experience that Ohio State has given me. And for that I will be forever grateful.
I was overcome with emotion as I suited up in the scarlet and gray for the final time prior to the Fiesta Bowl last week. When I ran onto the field and looked up into the stands, I was greeted by our beloved Buckeye Nation, who had traveled across the entire country — and would probably travel to the moon — to support us.
In that moment, I had so many things going through my mind, and I was so thankful for each of them. I thought about how blessed I am for having been given the opportunity to play for this great university and its amazing fan base. I thought about the coaches and trainers who had spent countless hours making me better. I thought about my teammates, my brothers, who I’d accomplished so much with. And I thought about my son, Landon — who’s going to make a great Buckeye one day.
I came here as a young freshman making plays. And yes, looking back, screwing up plays. But through it all, you fans were there for me, giving me support. Man, I loved your cheers. And while I was stuck at home, doing those mundane rehab exercises … I’d always think about how good it would feel, someday, to make The Horseshoe roar again.
It surpassed my expectations.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every Buckeye fan who took the time to watch me play the game that I love. I lived for those moments that we all experienced together, and I’ll always feel a special connection to you.
And that’s because I’m one of you.