Linebacker Chad Hoobler lost his shirt Saturday, and couldn’t be happier.
His redshirt, that is.
Due to the season-ending injury to Mike D’Andrea and the fact that Anthony Schlegel has been a little banged up in practice, the coaching staff decided it was time to give the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder his shot. He debuted in OSU’s 30-7 win over Indiana Saturday.
“Yeah, definitely it feels good to get a chance to play,” Hoobler said. “I’m starting on kickoff right now and it feels real good to do that. And when I got in (at linebacker) I was real pumped about that to get in and finally play.”
Hoobler was one of three true freshmen who made their debut in the win over Indiana. Also making their first appearances were fullback Dionte Johnson and offensive tackle Steve Rehring.
Hoobler, a Carrollton, Ohio, native, finished his debut with one tackle. Hey, at least he didn’t get shut out.
“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “And I was only in there at the end for a couple of plays.”
Coming into the season – after an impressive summer in the North-South and Big 33 games – Hoobler wasn’t sure if he was going to redshirt or not.
“At first, I didn’t think I was going to redshirt, and then they told me that I was, and now it’s off,” he said. “So, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to do whatever they need me to do.”
Hoobler revealed how the coaching staff informed him of the good news this week.
“They told me two days ago,” he said. “Coach (Luke) Fickell came up to me and told me I was going to be on kickoff and play a little bit this week. So, just take it from there.”
Hoobler’s reaction was an expected one.
“Oh, I was happy about it,” he said. “It’s not really wasting a year because I’m going to be playing the last five games. So, I’m excited for it.”
Hoobler looks more like an outside ’backer at his weight right now, but he will strictly play the middle the rest of this season.
“No, just the Mike right now,” he said. “That’s where they have me at.”
Hoobler was asked why the staff decided to play him now and not earlier in the season.
“Well, Mike (D’Andrea) got hurt and Anthony (Schlegel) is up there all by himself, so, I guess if he goes down, or gets hurt or something, I need to be there for him and be ready to go,” he said.
Hoobler has an excellent corps of linebackers to learn from at OSU.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation to learn under guys like that,” he said. “AJ (Hawk) Bobby (Carpenter) and Schlegel are three of the best linebackers in the country. And Mike too when he’s healthy.”
Although he has spent most of the season working on the scout team in practice, Hoobler thinks he has a pretty good feel for Mark Snyder’s defensive schemes.
“I feel like I know the defense really well,” Hoobler said. “You know, you pick up new things each week, but I feel pretty comfortable and confident.”
The 6-8, 315-pound Rehring debuted as a member of OSU’s Jumbo offensive line set as an extra tackle. The opportunity made his decision to enroll early after graduating from West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West worthwhile, he said.
“The other (freshman linemen) are not too far behind,” he said. “But by coming in early, I got to learn the system and I got used to being in the weight room and going there every day. I got stronger. I learned the basics during spring ball, so I didn’t have to learn them when I got here for the fall.”
Rehring was asked what he did to earn playing time.
“I just went into practice every day with a good attitude,” he said. “I played hard. For the first couple weeks, I was going against our defense. That helped me get better.”
Rehring was on the field for Antonio Pittman’s late touchdown run.
“It felt great,” he said. “Growing up in Ohio, it is probably every kid’s dream to go out in that stadium and be a part of a touchdown.”
Meanwhile, Johnson debuted late in the first quarter at fullback. On his first play, he helped spring Pittman for a 5-yard gain. He was pressed into service after sophomore fullback Stan White Jr. went down with a shoulder injury.
“It was great,” said Johnson, son of former OSU All-American linebacker Pepper Johnson. “It felt like I was finally a part of the team. I helped with the victory. It was a great feeling to hear everybody yell like that.”
The 6-0, 220-pound Johnson also discussed what he did to earn playing time.
“A couple weeks ago, our defensive coaches were like, `Hey, our scout team guys have got to step it up to improve our defense,’ ” Johnson said. “In practice, I try to better them and, of course, I better myself in the process.”
All of OSU’s fullbacks ahead of Johnson have battled injuries, including White, junior Brandon Schnittker and senior Branden Joe.
“Stan is only out with a stinger,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he’ll be back because he’s one of the starters.”
These three freshmen bring the total of true freshmen playing this season to 11.
Most notable in this group are wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who had a punt return for a score against Wisconsin and a touchdown grab against Indiana; tight end Rory Nicol, who had a touchdown catch against Iowa; and Pittman, who had 144 yards and a score against IU.
Other freshmen in action this year include wide receiver Devon Lyons, linebacker Curtis Terry, defensive end Vernon Gholston, linebacker Marcus Freeman and defensive back Sirjo Welch.
Fourteen more true freshmen on scholarship have not seen action this year. That group includes running back Erik Haw, wide receiver Albert Dukes, punter A.J. Trapasso, quarterback Todd Boeckman, cornerback Brandon Underwood, defensive back Shaun Lane, defensive back Nick Patterson, kicker Jonathan Skeete, linebacker Brandon Smith, offensive lineman Ben Person, offensive lineman Kyle Mitchum, defensive end Alex Barrow, offensive lineman Jon Skinner and defensive tackle Nader Abdallah.