It’s become the one “Yeah, but…” event to happen in the Ohio State football team’s Saturday’s 38-6 season-opening win against Youngstown State.
Midway through the second quarter, on a 25-yard pass from Youngstown State quarterback Tom Zetts to Da’Michael Horne, the play ended with OSU defensive end Lawrence Wilson on the ground writhing in pain. When the junior from Akron didn’t pop up and make his way toward the sideline within the first two minutes, it was clear the injury was something serious.
The final diagnosis was a broken tibia – the shin bone that runs between the knee and ankle – in the right leg. After the game, head coach Jim Tressel said the injury will keep Wilson out for six to eight weeks, something Ohio State confirmed in an e-mail Sunday night.
“That would be a terrific loss,” Tressel said. “Lawrence Wilson is a good player and he’s an enthusiastic guy. He gets riled up and fired up and he’s one of those guys that’s played enough to be a leader. He’s not wondering where he lines up. He knows where he lines up and can do some of those extras, so that would be a significant loss.”
Indeed, teammates agreed that Wilson’s maturity on a defense lacking experienced players would be one of the biggest blows of all.
“He’s definitely our emotional leader,” said Cameron Heyward, a freshman whose playing time just took an upturn. “We have to just keep supporting him. He’s still going to help us out a lot.”
There’s no denying the impact Wilson made on the field as well. After making 14 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks last year as a top reserve behind Jay Richardson and Vernon Gholston, Wilson had already made a sack of Zetts and added another half tackle for loss against the Penguins.
Now, the Buckeyes face the prospect of losing him for an extended period of time.
“It’s going to be a tremendous loss because Lawrence is a great athlete, a great person,” Chris Wells said. “I think we have young guys that can come up and step in and play right now.”
Included in that group are Heyward, sophomore Robert Rose, who made 3.5 sacks in ’06 but whose move to the inside now might be aborted, and junior Alex Barrow.
One player who can relate to Wilson is safety Anderson Russell. A year ago as a redshirt freshman, Russell started four games but saw his season come to an end at Iowa when he tore his ACL on kickoff coverage against the Hawkeyes. The Atlanta native said he’d have a message of support for Wilson when he talked to him.
“I know what he’s going through,” Wilson said. “Rehab is probably going to be frustrating, so I would tell him, ‘Keep your head up and don’t get too down on yourself.’”
Earlier in the week, offensive tackle Kirk Barton had talked about how he hated to see players on either side suffer injuries. Wilson’s injury gave him yet another moment of pause afterward.
“It breaks my heart what happened to Lawrence Wilson,” the captain said. “That can happen to any of us on any play. The next guy has to be ready to step in because you can’t fold up the tent after you lose a guy like a Lawrence Wilson. You have to keep grinding.”