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Looking at the Buckeyes in the College Football Hall of Fame

One more Ohio State football recruiting assets

Ohio State University Keith Byars
Buckeye Hall of Famer, Keith Byars
Set Number: X29123

During the football off-season (especially after college basketball has long ended), we fans turn our attention to the recruiting news (and rumors). There’s a lot going on, including the Buckeyes’ getting the commitment from five-star quarterback Dylan Raiola in the 2024 class.

I’m sure that, in Raiola’s case, he was impressed by the wide-open, top-ranked Ohio State offense and the quarterback/receiver coaching of Ryan Day and Brian Hartline. He must be excited to become a part of such success.

Recruits also look at facilities, the campus, the academic programs and reputations. High schoolers are awed by the number of national and conference championships, Heisman Trophy recipients, and All Americans. Recruits are concerned with how they get along with the coaches, with the other players. How the program “feels.” But everyone that a program like Ohio State recruits also looks beyond college and ahead to a career in professional football.

The Buckeyes sell their program’s ability to place players in the NFL by citing recent NFL drafts, the number of former Buckeyes currently in the league, and the outstanding pro careers of OSU pro players. By the way, there are 10 former Bucks (one of whom is NFL Films executive Ed Sabol) in the Professional Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio, ranking behind only Notre Dame and Southern Cal with 13 each, and TTUN, which has 11.

During the NCAA basketball tourney this year, there was a Wendy’s commercial that aired about every four minutes, the one where a relaxed Reggie Miller corrects the young Wendy’s employee making Miller’s introduction. Miller has him add “Hall of Famer” to the list of accolades. Hall of Fame: it’s important to players – and to recruits.

And, as we know, there’s a College Football Hall of Fame, in Atlanta, in addition to the professional one. How many Buckeyes in the College H of F? 26. The same number as Michigan and a way behind Southern Cal’s 31 and Notre Dame’s 45. The top ten is somewhat surprising. Oklahoma and Alabama are in the top ten – but barely. Ahead of both teams are the beasts from the East, Yale and Princeton, with Pitt also in the top ten. Even I am too young to remember Ivy League programs winning national championships or the line “Champions of the West” in a Big Ten fight song making any sense.

Keith Byars was the last Buckeye to be inducted, as he was part of the COVID-19 double class of 2020 and 2021 that officially joined the Hall in December 2021. High school sophomores and juniors might not know Byars, but, if they’re considering OSU, they will soon enough. Using the Hall of Famers as examples, Ohio State can boast of numbers and of quality as they promote fame and glory (as well as the prospect of future riches).

So, who are these 26? I knew about most of them, though some of the early linemen – Gomer Jones, Gust Zarnas, Warren Ambling – didn’t ring any bells. Interesting to me, as I pondered the illustrious list, were the positions that these Hall of Famers played. Of the 26 total, 21 really made the Hall based on their offensive play. (Yes, I realize that many of the players, even into the 1950s, played on both sides of the ball.)

Nine of the offensive players were linemen. Two others were labeled as ends, though I’m not sure that we would call them “receivers” today. Jim Houston might qualify as a tight end these days, but he probably played at least as much defensive end as offensive end, where he was primarily a blocker, another lineman who happened to be pass-eligible. And Wes Fesler played a variety of positions and had a long, distinguished coaching career. Les Horvath and Rex Kern are the only Buckeye quarterback inductees (but I expect to see others inducted in the next decade, or so).

Running back is the position that stands out, as do the names. We know them all (almost): Keith Byars, Howard (Hopalong) Cassady, Bob Ferguson, Eddie George, Archie Griffin, Chick Harley, Vic Janowicz. And Gaylord Stinchcomb, who carried the ball for the Bucks from 1917-1920. There’s no doubt to me that the ratio of running backs to quarterbacks and receivers illustrates two facts: 1). that Ohio State has historically been more of a running team than a passing team and 2.) the offensive game has really changed radically in the last twenty years. Speaking of twenty years, there’s a long lag time between the years of a player’s collegiate career and the year of H of F induction. In Byars’s case, for instance, he played 1982-85 and was inducted in 2020.

Crossing the line of scrimmage and looking at the five defensive players, we are struck by the linebackers. Jack Tatum, one of my favorite Buckeyes ever, is the lone defensive back in the Hall of Fame, and Jim Stillwagon is the only defensive lineman. Odd.

The three linebackers probably still make opposing backs quake. Randy Gradishar and Tom Cousineau played in the 1970s, and Chris Spielman was a Buckeye in the following decade. Again, note the lapse in time until induction, as Gradishar was elected to the Hall in 2001, Spielman in 2009, and Cousineau in 2016. Keeping this lag time in mind, we might hope to see the likes of A.J. Hawk, Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitus, Ryan Shazier, Matt Wilhelm, Darron Lee, Raekwon McMillan, or Rick Middleton gain election to the Hall. Linebacker U?

Looking at all of these linebackers brings to mind the current Buckeye linebackers. Will any of them join the ranks of these Buckeye immortals? Indeed, who will be the next Ohio State inductee?