Ryan Schuck knows what it means to be tenacious and he has the hardware to prove it.
As a senior, the Ohio State wide receiver captured a new honor a team-best seven times. Dubbed the “Top Ten Tenacious” list – the brainchild of strength coach Jeff Uhlenhake – it was unveiled prior to the 2009 season in an effort to recognize outstanding individual effort within the program.
A walk-on with little shot of seeing legitimate playing time for the Buckeyes, Schuck saw the list for what it was: a chance to be recognized for his hard work that otherwise could easily go overlooked.
“I knew my chances of playing a lot on Saturdays were slim, but it was definitely an area for me where I took pride in and it gave me an opportunity to showcase some of my skills and my work ethic in the weight room and in our conditioning drills,” he told BuckeyeSports.com. “It gives everybody a chance to earn respect from your teammates and the coaching staff. It shows how much you care about the team and shows how much you care about winning and the program.”
Uhlenhake suggested the concept when head coach Jim Tressel asked his coaches for feedback following the 2008 season. A former All-American and a 10-year NFL veteran, Uhlenhake is on hand for the team’s time in the weight room as well as offseason workouts.
It was there, seeing players like Schuck putting in effort week in and week out, that an idea was born.
“I was just thinking about the weight room so guys would have a little more intensity in the weight room and give them something to compete for,” Uhlenhake said. “It’s not restricted to just your best football players. It’s guys who give great effort, guys who have been on the scout team and really laid it on the line week in and week out.”
The idea was embraced by Tressel, who opted to make it a year-round occasion. During the season, the coaches meet each Sunday and discuss names to be included on that week’s list. The list is then posted near the door to the team’s locker room inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Initially, two lists were compiled – one for offense and another for defense. According to Schuck, those were merged into one list during the season.
“It’s not about who played the best in the game or who played the most minutes,” Uhlenhake said. “You’ll see a lot of scout teamers on there. It brings up the level of play throughout the week.”
A complete list of winners was not available, but the updated player biographies distributed prior to the Rose Bowl give a glimpse at some of the players often honored. After Schuck, freshman defensive tackle John Simon finished second with six nominations. Other players to bring home the award numerous times included defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, walk-on defensive back Nate Ebner and walk-on fullback James Georgiades (five times each) as well as linebackers Etienne Sabino and Austin Spitler (four times each).
Now hoping to extend his football career, Schuck is working out in Columbus and hoping to catch on with a professional team. As his senior season went on, consistently being named to the list raised his profile among his teammates, Schuck said.
“When you get on that list a couple times and when you’re consistently doing well in the weight room and working your butt off, guys notice that even if you’re not a superstar or a big-time player,” he said. “I do think they respect that and they look up to you for that. It’s a contagious thing.”
That goes for scholarship players as well.
“They put the little board up there and you have your picture up there,” running back Dan Herron said prior to the Rose Bowl. “It’s a pretty neat thing. It’s right outside of the locker room. When you walk in, you see your picture up there and it’s pretty cool.”
However, as Uhlenhake pointed out, the top goal for the team is obviously to win games. Having a tenacious week in practice could have no bearing on whether or not the Buckeyes earned a victory that Saturday.
“Ohio State is about winning football games, so that’s where you need to be careful with the list,” the coach said. “A kid could still be on the list for being tenacious and might have gotten beat on an out-and-up in the game. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t tenacious that week.”
Uhlenhake said if a player has a great week but gets beat in a game, “that’s why you have conversation. That’s why the coaches talk about it.”
Schuck, whose lone statistic during his OSU career is one fumble recovery as a senior, said being named to the list seven times – and topping it once – gives him a tangible achievement to point to from his time with the Buckeyes.
“It’s a great honor because there’s so many guys at Ohio State on the team who work hard and put so much time into their conditioning, their weight room preparation and their film study,” he said. “To be on that list where only 10 guys make it was definitely an honor.”