From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This [past] week was all about Ohio State heroes. Whether they are the biggest names in Buckeye athletic history, or underappreciated icons; perhaps even players who made major impacts off the field. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Buckeye Heroes” articles here.
Mike Doss was a highly coveted football recruit coming out of Canton McKinley High School (OH), where he excelled on both offense and defense for the Bulldogs and won back-to-back state titles in 1997 and 1998. He then followed in the footsteps of players such as Ray Ellis, Jamar Martin, and Kenny Peterson, going from Canton to Columbus by committing to Ohio State as part of the Buckeyes’ 1999 recruiting class.
He would go on to establish a legendary legacy, earning All-American accolades, winning a national championship, and eventually being enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame.
But if you are reading this, you likely already knew or know 90-100% of the information above. Because Doss is beloved by fans of the Scarlet and Gray and arguably the most accomplished OSU football player of the 21st century (thus far). However, I think that it is important to acknowledge and/or recognize that Doss’ heroics went beyond ‘just’ stats, trophies, and individual accolades. It was his smart decision-making, countless intangibles, and incredible leadership that truly set him apart — and made him a genuine Buckeye superhero. Tackles, interceptions, and forced fumbles were all just icing on the cake.
Because Doss is already so well respected and so highly regarded, finding a new or different way to celebrate his heroics can be quite difficult. But I figured I would give it a go anyway. By focusing this piece on Doss’ impact on Ohio State’s entire 2002 season, not just a stretch of games or even his MVP effort in the Fiesta Bowl win over Miami.
Doss’ contributions to that special championship charge began way, way before the ’02 season kicked off, when his desire to win and his dedication to his OSU teammates took precedence over any pursuit(s) of money, fame, or other. That is what I find to be heroic... The tackles, interceptions, and forced fumbles I talked about earlier? Those just made Doss a highly productive football player. And not all highly productive football players are or can be heroes.
After Ohio State lost to South Carolina in the 2002 Outback Bowl (2001 season), Doss was faced with a decision: Literally cash in on his (2x) All-American status by entering the NFL Draft? Or run it back with the Buckeyes, risk injury, and hopefully go from a 7-5 team to a serious title contender? He obviously chose the latter, which, even if he had certain selfish motives, was a very unselfish act.
We’re talking about turning down millions of dollars to come back and play for a team that just lost to the corpse (coaching version only) of Lou Holtz! And other than Maurice Clarett, it’s not like OSU had a who’s who of recruits coming in. So Doss definitely took a leap of faith, but one that was very important to him and for which he was ultimately rewarded.
The Buckeyes’ All-American safety and new co-captain came back better than ever in 2002. He totaled 107 tackles and 2 INT, earning recognition as the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year. More impressively, he became Ohio State’s seventh three-time First Team All-American. And his teammates on defense really seemed to feed off his intensity and leadership.
Like Doss, OSU (as a team) was not the biggest, fastest, or most talented. But Jim Tressel’s ’02 squad played smart football, they executed assignments, and they put their bodies on the line. They did not back down, ever. Nor did Doss.
Despite lacking elite physical traits, Doss was a menace on the field. He knew where to be, when to be there, and he was going to hit somebody whenever he arrived at that destination. He was always an absolute joy to watch, but never more so than the night he made play after play against the mighty Miami Hurricanes.
Prior to kickoff of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, few expected Ohio State to compete with Miami. The Buckeyes were double-digit underdogs going up against what seemed like an entire roster of high-end NFL prospects. Guy like Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow Jr., Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Sean Taylor... The list goes on and on. And the Hurricanes had been No. 1 all season, wire-to-wire until January 3. But Doss, along with several of his OSU teammates, shocked (most of) the world.
With Craig Krenzel and the Ohio State offense struggling to move the ball, it was Doss who provided a key spark in the second quarter. The senior safety intercepted a deflected pass and returned it 35 yards, setting up Krenzel’s QB sneak for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown. Of course, Clarett, Will Allen, Cie Grant and others all played important roles in helping to secure an OSU victory, but I will always remember Doss’ interception and the impact he had on this amazing game. Just like I will always remember the impact he had on his team for 3+ years as a starter, a leader, an All-American, and above all else, a Buckeye Hero.
Doss could have left after the 2001 season and still been remembered as a great Buckeye. He would still have a spot in Buckeye Grove and likely be mentioned among the all-timers. But I really believe that Doss’ 2002 season earned him hero status in and around Columbus. Not because of one play or one game. But rather because of what he meant to Ohio State (fans, players, coaches, you name it) all year. Beginning with his decision to return to school, he helped set in motion a championship season.
And that’s pretty damn heroic in my book.