The first home game in Ohio Stadium signals a fresh start each year. Disappointments from the past year are swept away and expectations are met head-on when the Ohio State Buckeyes first run out of the tunnel and fans are treated to their first sight of the new team.
On the other side of the coin are the team’s freshmen, experiencing their first taste of what it truly means to be a Buckeye. From the walk to the Skull Session to pregame warm-ups and everything in between, it is a day of firsts.
But for one freshman on this year’s team, August 30 was an even bigger date than it was for his classmates. For freshman quarterback Ross Oltorik, OSU’s game against Youngstown State marked the first time he had seen a game at the Horseshoe.
The walk-on athlete who will suit up for the OSU baseball team this spring had never taken in a Buckeye football game in person until he was standing on the sidelines in full uniform. He missed OSU's spring game due to a baseball game.
His only experiences in Ohio Stadium had come when the Buckeyes had practiced or conditioned there during fall camp.
Not surprisingly, the graduate of Cincinnati Moeller was on cloud nine when he charged the field with his new teammates.
“Running out there with everyone in the stadium was like a dream come true,” he said. “It was like I was living in a daze. It was awesome.”
There in the stands were two of Oltorik’s family members; his father and his grandfather. Both of them arrived early and were there to document every part of the day.
“We went to the walk, when they walk from the hotel to the Skull Session and then over to the stadium,” said Dennis Oltorik, Ross’ father. “We got some snapshots and a little video of him walking in his suit.”
Ross said he remembers being near safety Aaron Gant when he took the field. His father said that both he and his father-in-law could pick him out of the swarm of scarlet jerseys pouring across the turf.
Ross himself said he felt a charge as he went through pre-game warm-ups with the stadium not yet half full. Trying to mentally prepare himself for what the day would entail, Oltorik was largely left on his own to try and get himself ready. Head coach Jim Tressel offered some simple advice to all the freshmen: just take it all in and enjoy the moment.
The reason? Words can’t do it justice when you run on the field in front of 105,000 cheering fans, and Oltorik’s teammates and coach knew that.
“I don’t think guys tried to explain to me,” he said. “People were just like, ‘We can’t really explain it to you.’ Words can’t explain it. That’s how I really did feel. I was so happy I couldn’t stop smiling.”
That is not to say that his fellow Buckeyes have ignored him since his arrival on campus June 15. Prior to the YSU game, junior tailback Chris Wells expressed his excitement for Ross heading into his first game.
The fact that a player entering a season where he was expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy would notice a walk-on, fourth-string quarterback was a clear indication of what kind of players the Buckeyes have, Dennis said.
“Chris and Ross have a locker near each other or next to each other, and being the quality man that he is he probably sees a young guy coming through and a little bit reserved because of it and he’s watching out for him,” he said. “As a father, you know you’re sending your kid to a good place not just for athletics, but for life.”
That point was further hammered home when Dennis attended an OSU practice during fall camp and Tressel made a point to meet with him.
“I’ve been to one practice and I enjoyed it,” he said. “Coach Tressel came up to me and introduced himself and said hi. He said some really nice things about Ross, which I didn’t think he had to. He didn’t have to go out of his way to do that.”
His status as the fourth quarterback on the depth chart does not mean that Oltorik is content to sit by and not contribute. His father admitted that it was difficult for both to see so many players see playing time in the 43-0 OSU victory but that the situation was understandable.
Getting into Ohio Stadium was not the culmination of a dream, but rather the beginning of one.
“I’ll remember that first experience of running out there and seeing everyone, not being able to take your eyes off of the crowd,” Ross said. “Obviously it’s just the first step. It’s a great feeling, but you’ve got to keep going from here. It was a great experience.”
An experience that gave him a much closer view of the action than most freshmen receive for their first OSU home game.