When sizing up their teammates, the Ohio State football team came to the same conclusion as most people on the outside: this team’s leadership will have to come from the defensive side of the football.
After voting by each member of the 2009 Buckeyes, three seniors have been voted as team captains: safety Kurt Coleman, defensive lineman Doug Worthington and linebacker Austin Spitler, with a fourth alternating captain to be announced weekly.
Coleman and Worthington have combined to start 46 games during their OSU careers, but Spitler – a fifth-year senior – saw just 18 minutes of action a season ago and has never started a game while being buried behind three-time All-American James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker.
The honor means that each player will have to take the reins of a team that has lost 13 starters from the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas.
“Our captains, we look up to them as leaders and as emotional leaders on and off the field,” junior linebacker Ross Homan said prior to the announcement. “They are always a huge aspect for the offense and the defense.”
The 2007 installment of the Buckeyes featured three permanent captains and a rotating fourth. That year, two of the permanent captains were on the offensive side of the ball with Laurinaitis representing the defense. The last time OSU had no offensive captains came in 2002 when the Buckeyes had two defensive captains.
The vote does not rule out the possibility that sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor could serve as a captain on a weekly basis, but it means that he will not be charged with being a full-time captain for the Buckeyes. Prior to the start of fall camp, head coach Jim Tressel said he was not completely comfortable with the thought of having a sophomore captain.
“I have a lot of votes, but I’m not sure I have a hundred-and-some,” he said. “I guess sitting here at this moment I’m not sure that is something that you would want to add to a sophomore’s plate, but we’ll see how things evolve.”
This likely means Pryor was not an overwhelming choice as captain among his teammates. However, Coleman said Pryor is a leader on the team – captain or not.
“TP is the face of the team,” he said. “It’s like when Troy (Smith) stepped into the role.
Worthington was held out of the starting lineup for the first three games last season after being charged with OVI during the offseason, but he went on to record 34 tackles including five tackles for loss. Tressel described him as an outgoing personality who went out of his way to introduce himself to anyone walking down the hallway while in Chicago for the Big Ten Media Days & Kickoff Luncheon.
“Doug is a great young kid,” Tressel said. “He has a passion to be a real leader on this team. He really paid very close attention to the right kind of guys as he was coming through. One of the characteristics of a guy who can be a leader is they are unselfish and they want to know what they can do for others. He’s got those qualities.”
Redshirt freshman Keith Wells credited Worthington as having been akin to a family member during his tenure at OSU.
“Doug isn’t just a teammate. Doug isn’t just a leader. He’s like an older brother, especially to me because I have a close relationship to him,” Wells said. “He’s one of the players I look up to on the team.”
Coleman has been a standout since enrolling early in 2006 and taking part in spring football. The Clayton (Ohio) Northmont alumnus played in 12 games as a true freshman and blocked a punt while primarily playing on special teams.
Since then, Coleman has amassed 142 tackles in two seasons for the Buckeyes while starting 24 games. Being one face stepping into a leadership void is exciting, he said.
“For me personally, it’s very exciting,” he said. “From watching the team develop, you can see there’s a hunger out there. The guys are getting out there and competing.”