College sports, unlike professional sports, are about moments. They evoke emotion, and passion, losses are gut-wrenching, and wins are talked about for years. Classic games cycle through television yearly, some of the best ESPN “30 for 30” documentaries are about college teams, players, or moments. The U, The Fab Five, Kemba Walkers run during March Madness, The Kick Six, App State vs. Michigan, and the list goes on and on of memorable moments. Michigan and Ohio State fans will argue forever about J.T. Barrett’s fourth down conversion. OSU fans will say he had the first down while Michigan fans swear he was short and the referees screwed them. College sports are special because the fandom is special, the players are 18-22-year-olds whose inconsistency helps fuel the beauty of the sport.
This 2022 Ohio State team is epitomizing what separates college football from just about every other sport. Being an Ohio State fan can sometimes feel clinical, this team is expected to win 12 games every year, win the Big Ten, and compete for a national championship. Fans are disappointed by wins that they deem too close, or not dominant enough. Coaches are fired for not recruiting enough high four and five-stars or for not developing players into high draft picks. Ohio State plays 12-15 games a year and their season is defined by two or three of them, the Michigan game and the playoffs, no other games matter because they’re expected to win.
This team is littered with four and five-star players who are destined to star in the NFL, and because of this, we do not always get the underdog story. We do not always get magical moments. We remember Chris Olave because he was a three-star prospect who became one of, if not the best, wide receivers in Ohio state history but that is rare. What is happening this season is even more rare. A team capable of winning a national championship is being buoyed by special moments and special players.
Enter Xavier Johnson, TC Caffey, and Kamryn Babb. TC Caffey is a freshman walk-on running back from Hubbard, Ohio. He turned down scholarship offers to walk on for his hometown Buckeyes. He was rewarded in a way most walk-ons never get rewarded, Caffey channeled former Buckeye Beanie Wells and NFL legend Marshawn Lynch on a 49-yard touchdown run against Toledo. Caffey may never play another snap for the Buckeyes, doubtful, but even if so this memory will last forever. You do not get special moments like this in the NFL.
Xavier Johnson, like Caffey, is a walk-on who has gotten a chance to shinStates’season. Unlike Caffey, Xavier Johnson had to wait until his fifth season to see the field but his impact has been felt in all aspects of the game. Throughout the off-season, coaches kept mentioning Johnson’s name and he backed up their belief in week one by scoring the game-winning touchdown against Notre Dame.
His impact hasn’t stopped there as he has been a crucial member of Ohio States’ special team units and has been called upon to carry the ball due to a litany of injuries to the OSU running back room. On Saturday, Johnson made his talent known on an impressive 71-yard touchdown run where he followed his blockers, weaved through the Indiana defense, and made something out of nothing. Ohio State was up 42-7 when this touchdown happened, but Buckeye nation still celebrated it because we know the blood, sweat, and tears that Johnson has put in for this team and he is finally getting his moment.
Kamryn Babb is not a walk-on, he was one in a long line of high-end wide receivers who committed to play for the Buckeyes. A four-star prospect in the 2018 class Babb was expected to make a huge impact for the Buckeyes on the field. The coaching staff believed in him so much that they continued recruiting him despite him tearing his ACL during his senior year.
Since then Babb has suffered three more ACL tears, two in both knees, and has been unable to impact the Buckeyes on the field but his off-field impact cant is quantified. Babb, a fifth-year senior, had numerous reasons to quit, to say football isn’t for him. He could have medically retired, finished his education, and started his career. I imagine Coach Day and Hartline would have gladly accepted him as a coach or quality control assistant but instead, he fought through adversity and committed to getting himself healthy and back on the field.
Babb this season was voted team caption and the “Block O” recipient, an honor bestowed on a player who they feel honors the legacy of former defensive end Bill Willis, who broke the color barrier in the NFL wearing no. 0. Babb’s impact was all through the program but on Saturday he had his moment on the field. Late in the game, Babb checked in as wide receiver and quarterback C.J. Stroud threw him the ball for an eight-yard touchdown.
That was Babb’s first catch and a touchdown as a Buckeye and the entire team mobbed him on the field while Buckeye nation exploded with joy in Ohio Stadium and around the world. No other sport will an eight-yard touchdown mean so much. The Buckeyes took a moment to celebrate their leader, causing a delay of game penalty but no one cared because this moment was bigger than football.
That is the beauty of college sports. When three players can make memorable moments out of otherwise unmemorable situations. We may reflect on the Notre Dame game but no one would think about Toledo or Indiana again after this season. Now we will talk about those games for the rest of our lives. College football is more than a 60-minute game, it’s more than X’s and O’s, wins and losses, and being crowned national champions.
College football is about players, stories, overcoming adversity, triumph, tradition, and more. College football is about passion, the passion of players playing every game like it’s their last because for the majority of them it will be. The passion of fans who pass down their fandom through generations.
It can be hard to remember this when we’re arguing about expanding the playoffs, or which player is getting what in NIL endorsement deals. We can lose sight of this when players are entering the transfer portal, coaches are collecting big salaries and even bigger buyouts. It isn’t until moments like this that we remember what makes college football special. What separates it from the masses and why we as fans dedicate so much of our lives to it? TC Caffey, Xavier Johnson, and Kamryn Babb reminded us of that. I can guarantee they will never forget these moments and Buckeye nation won’t either.