The likes of Troy Smith, Quinn Pitcock, Doug Datish and David Patterson all played prominent roles throughout the 2006 season and it was not difficult to see why. All grew through their Ohio State careers, became starters and helped lead the team to a berth in the national championship game.
But not every senior on the team spent the year grabbing headlines and being featured on the nightly news on a daily basis. For senior long-snapper Harrison Till, it was simply the fulfillment of a life-long dream to be a member of the team.
“Growing up in our house, my parents were die-hard Ohio State,” Till told BuckeyeSports.com. “From the time I can remember, we were always just scarlet and gray. I remember when I was 10 years old, my dad told me the words to the Ohio State fight song and he wouldn’t let me leave the dinner table until I recited it back to him.”
As a result, Till always entertained the notion of going to OSU one day, the school where his parents met. But it was not on the gridiron that he began to make a mark.
Till competed in the hammer throw for Wayne (N.J.) Hills during high school and became one of the nation’s top athletes in the event. His talents helped him reach one of his goals: a chance to compete in collegiate athletics at an Ivy League school.
But after he took a handful of visits of the likes of Princeton and Brown, he realized he wanted something more from his college experience.
“I realized was there’s only so much you can sacrifice to get a piece of paper from a university,” he said. “It just wasn’t for me.”
“I loved the idea of being in school there, but growing up and being around so many different kinds of people every day, people are telling you ‘college should be the best four years of your life,’ and as I’m walking around these campuses I’m saying to myself, ‘Is this going to be the best four years of my life?’ And the answer was, ‘Definitely not.’ ”
As a result, Till took his five official visits to Duke, Stanford, OSU, Wisconsin and Texas. He narrowed those five down to Stanford and Duke, then chose to become a Blue Devil. It was because of a knee injury suffered while on the track team that he wound up joining the football team.
After injuring his patellar tendon following his freshman season, Till rehabbed the injury at the same facility where the football team worked out. In doing so, he developed friendships with players and coaches on the staff – to the point where Till, who did not play football in high school – decided to attempt to walk onto the team.
“By the way, being a walk-on is not an easy thing, as you know,” said Rudy Ruettiger, a former walk-on at Notre Dame who had a movie made based on his experiences and an acquaintance of Till’s. “It means a lot to have some recognition as a walk-on, whether you’re on a third-team or whether you’re in practice participating, it means a lot. A lot of people take that for granted, but for a walk-on trying to be a part of a team, anytime you’re part of any type of structure that means a lot to them.”
After two weeks of having “pretty much the hell beaten out of me,” Till was given a uniform and a locker. The skills he used in the hammer throw helped him become a long snapper.
“It’s all core work,” he said. “It’s all in your hips and it’s all in your trunk area – from your kneecaps through your waist and up to your spine. If you don’t (build your core), the hammer is going to pull you over and you’re going to fall. In football, if you don’t have it as a long snapper you’re going to get killed.”
There he would spend the next two seasons until something somewhat remarkable happened.
He graduated from Duke after just three years and began looking at other schools at which to further his education. Because he was seeking a Master’s degree in a field not offered by Duke, he was free to enroll elsewhere and not lose any athletic eligibility.
Five official visits were taken: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue and Stanford. Northwestern also entered the picture, but a one-on-one meeting with OSU head coach Jim Tressel – which he called the realization of a “childhood dream” – sealed the deal for the Buckeyes.
“He said right to my face in the meeting, ‘Listen, you might not ever get on the field here but you will have the opportunity to dress for every home game,’ ” Till said. “ ‘You’ll travel to the bowl trips. You’ll be on the roster and be a walk-on here for your two years of eligibility. I’ll make the commitment to you. If this is a place you could see yourself, I’m telling you right now we’d love to have you here.’
“Out of all the coaches, everyone – Lloyd Carr, (Barry) Alvarez, everyone – he was just so honest and I respected it so much because the specific situation I was in was so rare. That’s all I was looking for: an honest guy I could relate to. On the spot I said to him, ‘Coach, I graduate May 15th, I’ll see you May 16th.’ ”
In addition to his meeting with Tressel, Till spent time with fullback Stan White, tailback Lydell Ross and linebacker Mike D’Andrea, the latter of whom had been part of a high school all-star track and field team alongside Till.
Till spent two seasons in the OSU program as a reserve long-snapper. True to Tressel’s word, he maintained his spot as a walk-on. But in two years, he never saw playing time for the Buckeyes. That did not stop him from making his presence felt, however.
When fellow walk-on Tyson Gentry was paralyzed during spring practice in 2006, it was Till who then contacted Ruettiger to implore him to speak with Gentry.
Ruettiger said he receives contact from all kinds of people, but Till’s selfless actions put him in at the pinnacle of his list of those who have reached out to him.
“I think Harrison fits in the top level and here’s the reason: He calls not for himself, but for other people,” Ruettiger said. “He saw his teammate in a tremendous amount of pain and struggling and he was reaching out to help him, emotionally and spiritually and he reached out to myself or other people like myself to help his teammate out.
“That tells you a lot about the guy right there: It’s not just about Harrison wanting to be a football player, it’s about Harrison being a man, Harrison being a great American, a great human being. That’s why he’s one of the tops on the list, if not the top.”
Despite never getting to play a single snap for the Buckeyes, Till said his experience in the scarlet and gray was everything he had hoped for, “and ten times more.” He was active in local charities, particularly through former Buckeye Mike Vrabel’s “Second and Seven” foundation aimed at promoting literacy throughout central Ohio.
Charity work aside, the pinnacle for him was, he said, hugging his parents after the team’s 42-39 victory over Michigan last season.
“It was surreal,” he said. “It was something I think about every day and something I’ll always think about every day for the rest of my life. I just feel like there aren’t that many people that can wake up every day and say ‘I truly accomplished my dream.’ There aren’t too many people that are lucky enough to say that.”