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You’re Nuts: Which Ohio State non-football player would best excel on the gridiron?

Did any of these Buckeye athletes choose the wrong sport?

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Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Which Ohio State non-football player would best excel on the gridiron?


Josh’s Take:

Since Gene usually has a strong take, I am going to cheat. I need to tip the balance of the argument in my favor. While thinking about which non-football Buckeye would have been successful on the gridiron, two athletes came to mind. So, I am doubling up.

Inspired by the Tennessee Titans recent signing of former Big Ten All-American Adam Coon, I immediately thought of local legend and former OSU grappler Tommy Rowlands. Rowlands was a Columbus high school phenom who went on to wrestle at Ohio State from 2001 to 2004. He didn’t just fill a roster spot — he became one of the most dominant wrestlers in school and Big Ten history. Rowlands was a four-time All-American, three-time NCAA finalist, two-time NCAA Champion and OSU Athletics HOF inductee. He still holds program records for takedowns and wins.

Did I mention Tommy Rowlands was a heavyweight? He usually competed at OSU around 225 pounds, which was considered small for the weight class. At 6-foot-4, he had the frame to put on additional weight – something he did later on, during a successful international career. Now imagine a 6-foot-4, 250+ pound badass with crazy endurance, skilled at using leverage, and comfortable going up against behemoths. That sounds like a superhuman Larry Johnson would try to genetically engineer in a lab.

Rowlands could have been a freakishly good defensive end. Successful wrestlers know to use their hands and natural body leverage. They have great cardio, which means they do not wear down easily. Rowlands specifically was small for his class, so he relied on speed and agility. Those are all the traits you look for in a DE. However, Tommy Rowlands is not the only former OSU athlete who had to potential to rack up sacks for the football Buckeyes.

He stood 6-foot-9 and weighed 265 pounds. He had long arms useful for an array of pass rushing moves. He knew how to time a jump, perfect for batting down passes. Jared ‘Big Sully’ Sullinger could have joined Rowlands amongst the great hypothetical Ohio State edge rushers. Like Rowlands, Sullinger found plenty of success in his chosen sport, but it’s fun to imagine.

Sully would have been a Calais Campbell type due to his size. At 6-foot-9, he would have been one of the tallest football players in NCAA or NFL history, but he wasn’t just tall and lanky. He had the build to hold up against football players. Sullinger was a physical player, and took plenty of punishment from other post players in the Big Ten. He probably would not have dominated any drills or combine tests, but Jared Sullinger had an all-around skillset which could have been conducive to football success.

I image that with Sullinger’s wingspan, he would have developed a nasty swim move. We know that the spin move was one of his go-to moves in the post, so that’s at least two serious weapons in his pass rushing arsenal. His height could have led to more knocked down passes than J.J. Watt has ever dreamed of. My only concern is Sully’s stamina. So in my fake world, he is a pass rushing specialist, and likely racks up double-digit sacks while playing 33 percent of defensive snaps.

Sullinger’s hands and footwork would really set him apart… Which is why I also would have used him as a situational tight end. A nearly seven-foot human with great hands and rebounding ability? Give me all the jump balls in the corner of the endzone. I don’t think any defensive player could go up and get them with Sully. He had the potential to terrorize opponents on both sides of the ball. At 29 years old, maybe the tight end thing is still a realistic possibility.

There it is. I am giving two answers, and I apologize for nothing. Ohio State has likely had hundreds of athletes come through who played high school football and then a different sport for the Buckeyes. Many had the athletic ability to potentially pursue a career on the gridiron. Tommy Rowlands and Jared Sullinger possessed unique size and athleticism, making them the most likely candidates for success.

Gene’s Take:

I like where Josh went here going back in time for his picks. Like he said, there are likely tons of athletes who have come through the various Ohio State athletic programs in the past who could have seen some level of success had the gone the route of football. However, just to mix things up, I'm going to limit my pick to current Buckeyes.

It is often said that the strongest and most athletic forwards on the hardwood could also excel as tight ends, and I think that sentiment rings true for Ohio State basketball forward E.J. Liddell.

Liddell stands at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds. By comparison, that stacks up quite well with both of Ohio State’s starting tight ends a season ago in Luke Farrell, who stands at 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, and Jeremy Ruckert, who measures up at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds — and that’s obviously with Liddell’s workout plan not currently aiming for mass as a basketball player rather than the muscle he would look to add as a football player. In terms of pure measurables, Liddell would definitely look like he belongs on the football field.

Liddell is also a tremendous athlete for his size. You don't see too many big-bodied forwards in college basketball with the ability to bring the ball up the floor, create their own shot off the dribble, and knock down the three-ball with the same success that the sophomore had a season ago. He wouldn't be the fastest guy on the field by any means, but Liddell moves much better than you’d expect as a casual observer. He is also incredibly strong, which would pay dividends in the blocking game.

In fact, Liddell has put some of these factors into practice at Belleville West High School. Suiting up for the football team back in 2015, Liddell played sort of a wide receiver/tight end hybrid, catching a few passes but mostly focusing on blocking as one of the biggest guys on the field. He wasn’t the most polished player in the world by any means, but its probably tough to spend a bunch of time working on your football skills while you’re busy being the two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball.

Liddell was one of the best players on the basketball team this past season, averaging 16.2 points per game to go along with a team-high 6.7 rebounds per contest. The forward increased his three-point percentage from just over 19% as a freshman to an impressive 34% as a sophomore, while also becoming one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players with his 1.1 blocks per game despite playing as an undersized five a lot of the time. It is unclear whether he will return to Ohio State this season or choose to pursue a professional playing career, but all I'm saying don't let Ryan Day get any ideas if Liddell does in fact return to Columbus.