The tight end position for Ohio State football was probably the least glamorous position on offense in the 2000's. The guys that played fullback knew going in they weren't going to see the ball much, and it was accepted going in that they were going to be a lead blocker for the tailback, and toil in obscurity. So I have a tough time even calling the fullback sport a 'skill position' in the traditional sense. But tight end was a position that the coaching staff said, almost every year without fail 'hey, we might not have used the tight end a lot last year, but THIS year? Hoo boy, look out. Going to be an integral part of the offense.'
Only it really wasn't. Oh sure, there were some skilled guys that made big plays, but overall, tight end was usually the fourth option in the offense, behind the tailback and the two starting wide receivers. And let's face it, as Matt told us yesterday, wide receiver was an embarrassment of riches in the 2000's. Still, the the guys that played tight end for Ohio State all made big plays when their number was called, and this was one of the closer votes among the staff. And really, there were only a couple of guys that put up numbers to the point they could be seriously considered:
Jake Ballard (2006-2009)
Ballard had a pretty typical Ohio State tight end career, as he totaled 34 catches, 377 yards, and three TD's, all of them coming in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Ballard was a guy that was kind of a victim of circumstance (as most tight ends were in this decade), as he was the third option behind guys that were some serious playmakers at the wide receiver position--Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and Dane Sanzenbacher. But he made arguably the biggest play in the 2010 Rose Bowl, and it helped OSU secure a win.
Facing a third and long on and clinging to a 2 point lead with right around 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, QB Terrelle Pryor threw a ball that when it left his hand all of Buckeye Nation went 'oh, no'. It was a desperate, panicky, off the back foot throw that floated in the air, begging to be intercepted. But Ballard came out of nowhere and out jumped everyone. It was a 24 yard gain on 3rd and 13, and kept the drive alive. The Buckeyes would go on to score on a pass to DeVier Posey and clinch their first Rose Bowl win since the 1996 season.
But The Winner Is...
Ben Hartsock (2000-2003)
Although Ballard might have had the biggest play, Hartsock had the better career, grabbing a position high 33 passes for the decade in 2003. It was really the one year a tight end stood out with anything more than a season with catches that usually landed somewhere in the mid to high teens, and Hartsock's sure hands and clutch catches helped OSU's offense compensate for the season long suspension of running back Maurice Clarett.
In the '02 national championship season, Hartsock only had...wait for it...17 catches and two TD's, but they were big scores in what came to be a season full of big moments and games. His first score was against Cincinnati that helped the Buckeyes crawl out of an early 9-0 hole, and his second was what would be the eventual game winner against Wisconsin in another nail biter. His 2003 season was a breakout one for a tight end, and since then, no one has approached his 33 catch season from that position.
Ben Hartsock, your tight end of the decade according to the staff of LGHL. Who would be your choice?