When Terrelle Pryor selected Ohio State as the nation’s top-ranked recruit in 2008, the quarterback cited head coach Jim Tressel as the primary reason for his decision.
Now, less than four years later, both are gone from the program. Tuesday evening, eight days after Tressel resigned from his post, Pryor issued a statement through his lawyer announcing that he would not be returning for his senior season with the Buckeyes.
“In the best interest of my teammates, I have made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University,” he said.
A five-star recruit out of Jeannette, Pa., Pryor was recruited by nearly every top football program in the country. He selected the Buckeyes and quickly took over the starting job, but the past six months have been filled with controversy.
In December, the university announced that Pryor and four other teammates would be suspended for the first five games of the season for trading signed memorabilia for free or discounted tattoos. It was the first step along a path that led to Tressel’s resignation when it was later revealed that the coach was at least partially aware of the situation but did not report it to his superiors.
Since then, Pryor’s driving record has been examined and the NCAA and university are both investigating whether or not he received impermissible benefits regarding his vehicles.
Along the way, reporters have trailed his mother, Thomasina, and documented every misstep made by the quarterback. Media outlets had acquired phone records showing that Tressel had exchanged 77 text messages with Ted Sarniak, a Jeannette businessman who was a mentor and advisor to Pryor. When Pryor was being recruited, OSU was the only program to make their efforts through Sarniak and not the school itself as time went on.
Roy Hall, who was Pryor’s quarterbacks coach in high school and now is the head coach of the Jayhawks, told BSB that the pressure on Pryor had just become too much.
“I can’t say for sure, but I would say that it’s maybe better for Ohio State as far as the media and everybody is just relentless,” he said. “They won’t let up. The media is a very, very powerful thing. People think Terrelle Pryor is the cause of it.”
During his three years, Pryor rushed for a program-record 2,164 yards and was fifth in passing with 6,177 yards. He compiled a 31-4 record as a starter that does not include the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, a game in which he took the first snap at wide receiver.
Along the way, Pryor was named the most valuable player in wins at the Rose and Sugar Bowls.
“It was a beautiful ride,” Hall said. “The thing is that people still feel around here that I’m a part of pushing him to Ohio State. I knew that Ohio State had a great program, believe me. Wherever he chose to go, I backed him and he chose Ohio State.
“And if he had to do it all over again, it would definitely be Ohio State again, hands down.”
Hall has been a trusted voice for Pryor and has often spoken of the quarterback’s capacity for good. The two maintained a relationship throughout Pryor’s OSU career and spoke frequently. Tuesday evening, Pryor gave Hall a call to personally give him the news.”
“It was short and sweet,” Hall said of the conversation. “He said, ‘Hey coach, I’m stepping out.’ That’s all. I know Terrelle and I didn’t press anything. I said, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’
“I told him I’m there if he needs me and I’ll back him every second and no matter what decisions he makes.”
With Pryor set to be suspended for the first five games of the season, the Buckeyes went through an open quarterback battle in the spring to find his replacement. The coaching staff said Pryor’s starting position would be reinstated when he was. Interim head coach Luke Fickell has not spoken to reporters since being elevated to the position but issued a statement.
“I was notified this evening that Terrelle has decided to pursue a professional career,” he said. “I wish him the best in his pursuits.”
The fact that Tressel has been dismissed is likely a factor in Pryor’s decision. When he signed with the Buckeyes, Pryor cited the head coach as the final factor that pushed him over the edge.
Pryor’s immediate future is unclear, but he is likely to try and enter the NFL’s supplemental draft. A date for that has not yet been announced. Hall said it is his impression that Pryor will enter.
“I just can’t wait until the day comes – and it will come – that Terrelle rises again and all the critics that blasted him, they eat their words,” Hall said.
Asked what he felt people should know about Pryor, Hall said, “People need to know about Terrelle that he’s a young man and he really made a mistake. I don’t know if he even knew what was going on.
“God forbid if he had been caught with a DUI or assaulted somebody or sold drugs or got caught taking drugs. They made it like he was a felon. People are dying every day but this is the biggest story going on. It’s unbelievable.”