Ohio State’s 38-6 season-opening win against Youngstown State in Ohio Stadium will be known for many things. A picture-perfect day welcomed more than 105,000 fans. Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel was on the opposite sideline of the team he took to four Division I-AA titles, and the game was OSU’s first-ever on the fledgling Big Ten Network, shutting out much of the Buckeye Nation from viewing the game from its homes.
But when it is all said and done two or three years from now, the day might be remembered most as the day the 2007 Ohio State freshman class arrived. Eight of the 15 scholarship players in the class saw the field, while three found the new scarlet end zone in the Horseshoe.
That lucky trio was comprised of wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington and tailback Brandon Saine. It was Sanzenbacher was put the first OSU points on the board for the 2007 season with 3:53 gone in the first quarter. Saine plunged into the end zone with less than a minute to play in the first half, and Washington put the icing on the cake by scoring the final points of the day.
The play of the group, which also included linebacker Brian Rolle, defensive end Cameron Heyward, cornerbacks Eugene Clifford and James Scott, and wideout Devon Torrence, surely brought a smile to the faces of the coaching staff, especially given the relative lack of excitement surrounding the crew from fans when it was signed in February. Just don’t think the coaching staff was surprised.
“Some of those guys have been doing it throughout summer camp,” offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “Just to see them do it today, no it wasn’t as surprising as to maybe it was to some of you folks. There’s some good young players and they’ll continue to work at it and get better, I’m confident.”
Clifford and Rolle were on the field from the first play as part of Ohio State’s kickoff coverage unit, and the Cincinnati Colerain product Clifford also saw time in the fourth quarter as a defensive back. Scott was also part of OSU’s special teams packages, while Torrence received a number of plays as a wideout and nearly had his first catch. Streaking down the middle, he was underthrown by Todd Boeckman on a post route that was open during the second quarter.
But the three players who found paydirt are the ones who were the true stars on the day. It started with Sanzenbacher, who lined up in the slot on the right side with OSU facing a third-and-goal from the 3 on its first possession. The Toledo Central Catholic grad ran a simple slant and Boeckman gunned the ball between two defenders to Sanzenbacher for the score.
“I was called into that formation,” he said. “I just had an inside slant, which I basically just found a seam in there. I kind of sat there. Luckily Todd found me and we got in there. To be honest, it was like a blur. It seemed like they snapped the ball and I was just handing it to the ref. Everything else in between went way fast.”
Sanzenbacher later added another 5-yard grab, but twice dropped passes, one a long corner route he laid out for but could not reel in.
Once Sanzenbacher starred, it was time for Saine to show his stuff. Ohio’s 2006 Mr. Football announced himself with authority on his first carry: starting as the tailback on OSU’s third drive, he took a handoff from Boeckman and raced 18 yards over the right side.
With 42 seconds left in the first half, the Piqua native plowed into the end zone from a yard out to make the score 21-3. On the day, he finished with 10 carries for 42 yards, showing the burst and power that made him such a highly sought after back.
“The touchdown today was just amazing,” Saine said. “I’m never going to have a first touchdown as a Buckeye again. I can’t believe it.”
“We know he’s a burner,” offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. “He stepped in and gave us another dimension today. We in the offense were real happy about that.”
Washington’s big moment came in the fourth quarter. On the first drive ever orchestrated by redshirt freshman signal caller Antonio Henton, Washington caught a pass across the middle with no one around him and raced to the end zone for a 37-yard score, OSU’s final touchdown of the day.
Tressel was impressed with the play of the three freshman wideouts, especially given the depth at the position with training camp injuries to Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons.
“They were real solid,” he said. “When you get an opportunity, you take advantage of it. Dukes has been banged up. Devon Lyons has been banged up. All those guys got some reps. They’re good players. Dane and Devon Torrence, I think, are going to be excellent players.”
On the defensive side, the true freshman who received the most playing time was Heyward. That could be a recurring theme throughout the year because of the broken leg suffered by starting defensive end Lawrence Wilson during the first half. Heyward replaced him on the series and can expect to now become an integral part of OSU’s stop troops.
“I don’t look at it as just an opportunity,” he said. “Lawrence is definitely going to be missed on this team. We’re all going to miss him and someone’s going to have to step up. I'm not sure who but everybody's going to be working hard in practice to just be like Lawrence.”
It was all part of a day the class members will assuredly never forget. Some are like Sanzenbacher, who admitted he’s long thought about running onto the field for the first time, while Heyward, a Georgia native, still said it was an emotional moment despite his less ingrained ties to the university.
“Oh man, it kind of got to me a little bit,” he said. “It just shows how much everybody loves Ohio. It shows that there’s a lot of traditions that run through this community.”