For each freshman at Ohio State, the excitement of enjoying your first skip down the players’ tunnel into Ohio Stadium can hinge on the expectations for each individual.
Ohio State senior safety C.J. Barnett, for instance, enjoyed his first-ever romp down the ramp on Sept. 10, 2010, prior to the Buckeyes’ 45-7 win against Marshall. Barnett, who made two tackles in the game, was also playing the role of cheerleader for the majority of the contest as a reserve who mostly played special teams.
“When I was a freshman, I was walking out there but I was waving a towel,” Barnett said with a chuckle during a Monday interview at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Unlike Barnett, several members of the Buckeyes’ 2013 class are expected to be playing significant roles in OSU’s season opener against Buffalo on Saturday, and those that can cope with the enormity of their initial tunnel entrance could enjoy what one OSU veteran called a “life-changing” thrill.
Still, heavy reliance on first-year players could be problematic because, as OSU head coach Urban Meyer has seen, that first trip through the tunnel can be a jarring experience.
“I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out that tunnel, especially a place like Ohio stadium,” Meyer said. “There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken and you just can't create that animal until you get that opportunity.”
No fewer than five freshmen in Ohio State's top-rated class of 2013 should come face-to-face with that animal against Buffalo. Meyer said that running backs Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Michael Hill and punter Cameron Johnston will likely see the field against the Bulls.
Other freshmen can still earn or solidify a chance to play in the game with good practice performances this week. In all, 12 true freshmen as well as JUCO transfer Corey Smith, a wideout in the class of 2013, are in the two-deep Ohio State released on Tuesday. Those freshmen include Wilson, Bosa, Hill and Johnston along with receivers Jalin Marshall and James Clark, linebackers Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, cornerbacks Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, and nickel back Vonn Bell.
Wilson and Johnston could figure to have the most cause for pregame anxiety given the expectations they’re facing.
A 5-10, 180-pound product of DeSoto, Texas, Wilson has been a preseason standout for OSU. Lauded by coaches and players alike for his speed and playmaking ability, Wilson could also be the first Buckeye to touch the ball in 2013 as Meyer has tabbed him to return the first kickoff OSU receives.
Johnston, a 21-year-old Geelong, Australia, native and a veteran of Australian rules football, already has a documented history of nervy play in Scarlet and Gray. Subpar performances early in preseason practice have Meyer eager to see if Johnson can handle the pressure of playing before audiences of tens of thousands.
“Kickers – (I’m) interested to see how our kicker, our punter reacts (on Saturday),” Meyer said.
The big stadiums, the screaming fans, the weight of top-25 rankings and championship expectations – it’s enough to cause some freshmen to hyperventilate, Meyer said. He’s seen it happen.
With that in mind, several OSU veterans said they would do their part to alleviate any lingering anxiety as game time approaches. After all, the freshmen that manage to keep their heart rates at a relatively healthy level are likely to remember the trek from the locker room, down the tunnel and across the field for years to come.
“You would have to experience it to get to feel like what it’s like,” Barnett said.
OSU senior left tackle Jack Mewhort agreed with Barnett.
“I think running out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium for the first time, I don’t think there’s any feeling like it in the world,” he said. “It’s definitely not something that I’ll forget soon. It’s a life changer, so I’m excited for those guys to go out and just see how many people really come out and support the Buckeyes on game day. It’s going to be a lot of fun for those guys. I think they’ll be all right.”