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Darron Lee describes his ‘welcome to the NFL’ moment

The former Buckeye linebacker took an L in Week 1, but he’s ready to be an impact player.

NFL Draft - Red Carpet
Former Ohio State LB Darron Lee
Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

"The consensus from Ohio State’s Department of Athletics is that Barnes is the only football player — and perhaps one of a few Ohio State athletes in any sport — to play while enrolled in a PhD program.”

- Robin Chenoweth, OSU.edu

If you’re not the kind of Ohio State fan who has the entire roster memorized, first team to scout team, you might not know the name Jarrod Barnes. Barnes plans to change that—if not on the football field, then off it.

Barnes is Ohio State’s first ever football player to play for the team while simultaneously enrolled in a PhD program. A walk-on last season, Barnes has earned two degrees in the last four years between the University of Louisville and Ohio State. Now he’s in a doctoral program, and his focus is a commendable one: namely, working with talented young athletes on “reversing a cultural mindset” that places them in a box, one which values their brawn over their brains.

“It goes back to fear of failure. In class, you don’t want to seem dumb if you don’t know the answer so you don’t answer and don’t participate. You’re afraid to fulfill that stereotype,” he told OSU.edu. Barnes, who found himself the only black male or athlete in his rigorous anatomy class at Louisville, quickly realized just how expansive this problem—the stigmas and pressures that keep young athletes from challenging themselves athletically—really was.

You might not get a chance to see Barnes, a safety, blowing up pass plays over the middle or stuffing the run on creative blitzes on Saturdays. But if his trajectory to this point is any indication, you’re still going to be hearing from him on a big stage sooner or later.

“This is my first year in the NFL, so I'm just eating it all up and soaking it all in. ”

- Darron Lee, New York Jets linebacker, via NJ.com’s Connor Hughes

Through two games this season, Ohio State’s defense has looked so stifling—13 points total allowed, eight turnovers created—that it’s almost possible to forget just how much talent Luke Fickell’s unit lost to the NFL in April. One of the biggest losses was outside linebacker Darron Lee, a former high school quarterback who became one of the most explosive linebackers in the country. Lee was taken by the New York Jets, and this week, NJ.com caught up with him to see how he’s adjusting to life in the city and the NFL.

Lee said that he got his “rookie moment” out of the way in Week 1, when he took a bad angle in coverage and allowed Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah past him for a big gain. Lee’s lateral speed and field vision made even the idea of anyone getting past him for a big gain in college seem ridiculous; this, more than anything, should highlight just how great the gap between NCAA and NFL really is.

The Jets face off against the Buffalo Bills this Thursday, who feature two of Lee’s former teammates, QB Cardale Jones and DE Adolphus Washington. All three former Buckeyes are rookies looking to cement their footing in the league. Lee said that the game he’s looking forward to most this season is against “any team that my former teammates are on,” so look for him to come out hungry on Thursday night.

“Every player has one of those games where something - I don't know if it's divine intervention - but everybody has one of those games where everything just goes right. That game for me was Ohio State.”

- Uwe Von Schamann, former Oklahoma kicker

2016 won’t mark the first time that Ohio State and Oklahoma have faced off in the season’s third week. The two iconic programs also faced off in September of 1977, each helmed by a coach even more iconic than the current head man. Buckeye fans, particularly those who were around for the ‘77 tilt, will be watching this weekend with gritted teeth, hoping for a better result than what Ohio State got when Barry Switzer’s Sooners took on Woody Hayes’ Scarlet and Gray.

ESPN’s oral history of that game in Columbus is a must-read. Woody is no longer around to offer his thoughts on the result, which would surely be laced with profanity, but a host of former Buckeyes and Sooners talked through how OU broke OSU’s heart. Ohio State erased a 20-0 deficit to take a 28-20 lead after starting OU quarterback Thomas Lott went down with a knee injury. When Oklahoma found the end zone with the game’s end near, Ohio State suffocated the two-point try, and the victory looked assured. But Uwe von Schamann, the Sooner kicker, had other plans.

Von Schamann’s onside kick was perfect, and Oklahoma recovered the ball after a brief scuffle. A few plays later the Sooners were in field goal range, and von Schamann, who a teammate described as having “ice-water veins,” nailed the forty-one yard try with ease. (According to several Buckeye special-teamers, the kick was almost blocked, but close only counts in horseshoe and hand grenades.)

Here’s hoping the Buckeyes aren’t destined for similar heartbreak this Saturday.

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