Since head coach Jim Tressel arrived in 2001, Ohio State has a history of rewarding hard-working walk-ons with scholarships. And on Tuesday, sophomore center Tyler Whaley, junior running back Trever Robinson, senior fullback Ryan Franzinger and senior wide receiver Derek Harden were all elevated to scholarship status.
Elevated could also be used to describe Whaley's mood on Wednesday when he met with reporters.
"They announced it (Tuesday) in the team meeting that four of us were lucky enough to get on scholarship and it was just a huge honor and thrill," Whaley said. "I came in with Trever Robinson, so I'm real happy for him. And I'm real happy for a couple of seniors like Derek and Ryan as well."
Soon after Tressel's announcement to the team, Whaley called home to deliver the good news.
"Oh yeah, called my mom right away, my parents," he said. "I called her as soon as I got out to the car and she went from yelling and excited mode, to crying stage, and then back to the yelling stage. She told me she was going to call my grandparents and the rest of our family. I'm sure she is excited to save some of that money."
It's easy to forget that many of OSU's walk-ons have financial strains and can barely make ends meet.
"Oh yeah, I had a job in the summer," Whaley said. "And I'm one of the fortunate ones where my mom and dad could support me and put me through school with the money they had. But it was hard for them to pay my rent and a lot of the expenses like eating and just doing things. So, I got me a job in the summer and it wasn't the greatest job, but I did it and helped my mom out and now I'm fortunate enough where I don't have to worry about that."
Whaley (5-11, 290) was a three-year starter at offensive and defensive tackle at Ironton High School. He was named first-team All-Ohio in 2002.
"I had a couple MAC schools that wanted me to come there, most as preferred walk-ons. I had Wittenberg after me and some other D-III schools that really wanted me. Cincinnati, Marshall, all those schools were interested in me. But, as soon as I got the word that I could be a preferred walk-on up here, I couldn't pass up the opportunity."
Whaley was a diehard OSU fan as a child.
"Oh, big time," he said. "My dad's side and even my mom's side are all huge Buckeye fans. Driving up for games as a kid… I never thought I would be in this situation right now. It's just a dream come true for a guy from southern Ohio making his dream come true up here."
But this isn't some charity case. With his toughness, brute strength and football savvy, Whaley has been nothing short of impressive since last fall. He followed it up with a very good spring and knew coming into preseason camp that he had a chance to earn a scholarship.
"Yeah, well, I don't know if I'd say expect, because you never know, but I was definitely fighting hard and thought I was close," he said. "I knew I was on the verge of breaking loose and getting one. So, I had a good spring, broke into the two-deep, worked hard, I had a meeting with Coach Tress and that was one of my goals to get one. He let me know that I was one of the top-ranked walk-ons, including the other guys that got one. So, I knew I was right on the verge, it was just a matter of breaking through and getting one."
Last year, the three strongest players on the team in the bench press were, in order, Mike Kudla, Rob Sims and Whaley. Kudla and Sims used up their eligibility, so that leaves Whaley as the strongest Buckeye, right?
"Yeah, I'm one of the strongest," he said. "I don't know about the. We haven't really maxed or anything like that, but yes, I would say I definitely have one of the strongest benches on the team. I think it's 465, 470. And I've done 225, 30 times before."
Whaley is currently bracketed with redshirt freshman Jim Cordle as the backup center. Whaley hopes that Doug Datish stays healthy and has a big year, but if an injury pops up, he says he will be ready to contribute.
"My goal for this season is just to get some playing time," Whaley said. "And if need be… even if other injuries occur and Doug needs to go outside to tackle where he played last year, I'm hoping they have confidence in me to be the man to jump in the middle and make the calls and keep the O-line solid in the middle and protect Troy and allow our playmakers to make plays. That's one of my goals is to definitely get playing time."
When Cordle enrolled at OSU in the spring of 2005, he was very impressive. He was expected to enter last season as Nick Mangold's backup, but an injury shelved him for the year and he redshirted. John Peterson is OSU's tight ends coach, but he also works closely with the offensive line. He says he is not down on Cordle one bit.
"Jimmy Cordle is competing every day and just like any of those young linemen, they're getting better with every rep they take every day," Peterson said.
But has Whaley jumped Cordle on the depth chart?
"Oh, I think both Jimmy and Tyler are competing for that backup center spot," Peterson said.
One player who will need to step up with a big year for the Buckeyes is sophomore tight end Rory Nicol. He redshirted last year due to a foot injury, and with the suspension and ensuing transfer of Marcel Frost, Nicol will play even more snaps than originally expected this season.
"Rory has done extremely well," Peterson said. "He is excited to get his chance to get back out on the field after sitting out a year with an injury. He's anxious to get out there and show his new strengths and go out and play football.
"I think Rory has always had a very competitive approach, as far as film study, his weight room preparation is excellent. So, he's prepared himself to be the starter and that's what he is."
"(Ballard and Andy Miller) are just like any freshmen, they're kind of thrown in the fire with the camp," Peterson said. "Jake Ballard, I think has probably edged himself a little bit above right now through camp, and Andrew is plugging his way and learning new things every day."
Peterson also doubles as OSU's recruiting coordinator. He was pleased to see the program reward four players like Whaley, Robinson, Franzinger and Harden who have worked hard to earn a scholarship.
"I think it's tremendous reflection of those young men who have come in to a program like Ohio State and earned their spot and Coach Tressel has recognized that and the staff and it's a reflection of the great work ethic and commitment to the program," Peterson said. "There are always guys out there who get missed in recruiting for whatever reason and they want to be Buckeyes and they kind of fight through the opportunity to get on Ohio State's team, which is a very difficult task and those guys have paid the price and have been here for years and I'm very happy they've been put on scholarship."
* Cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman can relate to the walk-ons on the team. It wasn't that long ago when he was trying to earn a scholarship and playing time as well.
"Well, personally I was a walk-on at the University of Kentucky, so I know exactly what it's like to be a walk-on and earn yourself a position, much less a scholarship," Beckman said. "I was never blessed to get the scholarship."
Beckman definitely has his work cut out for him this season. The Buckeyes have five cornerbacks competing for playing time, including one sophomore and three freshmen.
OK, so the sophomore – Malcolm Jenkins – has the boundary cornerback spot locked up. But fifth-year senior Antonio Smith, redshirt freshmen Donald Washington and Andre Amos, as well as true freshman Kurt Coleman are all batting to be the other starting corner.
Beckman, the former defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, is no stranger to breaking in a young secondary.
"One of my years at Bowling Green we had some young kids that had to come in and play for us as freshmen in the secondary, so we've had that experience and I've been through that a little bit," he said. "The kids are eager and there's great competition. We've got, in my opinion, there's five guys who are competing daily to determine who is going to be the starter for us this coming Saturday.
"The competition has made it really exciting. The kids come out each and every day prepared to earn a starting position. And there's five guys out there, and I know (safeties coach Paul) Haynes has four guys at safety that are competing too (Brandon Mitchell, Nick Patterson, Anderson Russell, Jamario O'Neal). So, it's constantly a situation where we're challenging one and other, the players are challenging themselves and we coaches are challenging those players."
Based upon the few tidbits of practice that the media has been able to watch, it appears as though Washington is running with the first-team. Beckman was asked who he thinks will be the opening day starter at the field corner.
"We're still in the process of looking at who that is going to be," he said. "The kids know when they step out on the field that they're getting evaluated every snap. So, it still hasn't been determined on who the starter will be, but I have a good feeling with the experience that we need to get these young men that there could be a lot of kids playing. It won't be like last year where (Ashton) Youboty and (Tyler) Everett were the two starters and they played most of the game. Or, Jenks came in there when we needed the nickel package. This year, there's going to be some different faces out there and you'll see that on Saturday."