From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is 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.
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.
This week’s topic: Favorite Ohio State player you saw in-person
This week’s LGHL content theme is Buckeye Heroes, and I gotta be honest, I had trouble drawing a clear line between ‘Favorite Buckeye’ (not a thing, other than in my head) and the aforementioned theme. That, and ever since I joined LGHL, I have admittedly experienced a bit of trouble... err, frustration... trying to encapsulate the heroics of an athlete like Jesse Owens, Jack Nicklaus, or Archie Griffin.
How am I going to do those men justice? Or women, because Katie Smith is certainly in the Ohio State hero conversation as well. Better writers and better podcasters have already lapped anything I could come up with regarding certain Buckeye Heroes.
Fortunately, Mean Gene threw out a You’re Nuts idea that allowed us to straddle the fence a little bit. And it goes something like this: favorite Buckeye Hero you got to see in person. This is different than simply ‘favorite’ because hero is still the point of emphasis here. Like, even if Dane Sanzenbacher was my favorite Buckeye, it seems like a stretch to call him a hero (no offense to the small slot GOAT). So I had to jump in the way-back machine, and I think I came up with a good one... Or ones.
My favorite Buckeye Hero that I ever saw in person is/was actually a trio of Buckeyes. Sorry Gene, but if you ain’t cheating’, you ain’t tryin’. The heroes I am referring to are A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel — also known (by me) as the Triumvirate of Tackle.
Hawk, Carpenter, and Schlegel played together for two seasons (2004 and 2005) and formed arguably the greatest Ohio State linebacker trio of all-time. During those two seasons, the long-haired legends combined for 570 tackles, 26 sacks, and 6 interceptions, while wreaking absolute havoc against opposing offense. They also helped Ohio State finished 20th (‘04) and 5th (‘05) nationally in points per game allowed. And I got to witness a bunch of their achievements live and in-person.
I am dating myself a bit, but my freshman year at OSU coincided with that of Hawk and Carpenter (2002). So I got to watch these guys for the entirety of their college careers and form an emotional attachment to them (as players for my team, nothing weird). I attended 20+ games in the student section during their time in Columbus, and watched them grow from special teamers to All-Big Ten and All-American performers. It also helped that they contributed to a national championship team during my freshman year. After that, it became a no-brainer that I was going to root for these guys forever.
Then Schlegel comes along in ‘04, and not only was he (also) a badass LB, but he also had the same sort of attitude and aura as both Hawk and Carpenter. They seemed like three kindred spirits, and they were incredibly easy and fun to root for. The Buckeyes’ record wasn’t great during their time together, but I don’t think that takes away from their hero status as a group.
When I think of all-time teams or groups at OSU, this one comes to mind. And obviously Hawk is the headliner. Because if you (just) want to talk about individual Buckeye Heroes, No. 47 is or should be on every short list. He totaled nearly 400 career tackles in Columbus and was a two-time All-American, among other accolades earned. But Carpenter and Schlegel were studs too! They made heroic plays, even if you do not consider either one to be a singular Buckeye Hero... And let’s not forget Schlegel’s Rock Bottom of an unruly fan in 2014. That right there earned him hero status, and he wasn’t even in uniform.
This LB trio was a ton of fun to watch, and I was fortunate enough to do so on many occasions. They even became a pop culture entity, which only adds to their hero lore. But more (or most?) importantly, Hawk, Carpenter, and Schlegel were great Buckeyes. And that is what this week’s theme is all about.
I thought this would be a great topic for Josh and I to tackle — see what I did there? — because there is no overlap between our time periods at Ohio State, and so it was impossible that we would have to fight over our favorite Buckeye Heroes that we got to witness during our stints in Columbus.
I was fortunate that my freshman year at Ohio State just so happened to be in 2014, when the Buckeyes went on to win a national title despite losing their top two starting quarterbacks. I’m not saying that I brought the team good luck, but all I’m saying is that in my first year on campus Ohio State won it all, and they went 4-0 against Michigan while I was attending the university. Needless to say, they’ve lost two games to the Wolverines since I left, and have yet to win another national championship. Ryan Day, hit my line with some free season tickets so we can get that good juju back flowing!
But I digress.
I had the honor of watching some truly special Buckeyes on the field during my OSU tenure, including the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, J.K. Dobbins, Michael Thomas, Nick and Joey Bosa, Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward and the list goes on and on. While the 2015-18 Ohio State teams failed to reach the heights they did in my freshman year, those rosters still contained some great players who have since gone on to make a name for themselves at the next level as well. However, none of those guys were my favorite to watch in-person.
I was close to picking Zeke, as I was there in Indy to watch Ohio State dismantle Wisconsin 59-0 in the 2014 Big Ten Championship, but while the stud running back was a treat to watch week in and week out, it wasn’t quite the same as watching Malik Hooker dominate in the defensive backfield.
It’s easy to stand out as the star running back in an offense that loved to run the ball. It’s not as easy to stand out as a defensive back, especially in the run-heavy Big Ten. Most DBs can be game planned for — simply don’t throw the ball to their side of the field. That wasn’t an option for teams against Hooker, because he was everywhere.
That 2016 season by Hooker was otherworldly. The safety picked off seven passes that year, including three he returned for touchdowns. I can distinctly remember him taking an interception to the house as the rain began to pour against Tulsa early in the year, and I can even more distinctly remember his massive pick-six against Michigan which we scored right in front of my end zone as I stood in awe in Block O South.
Hooker was everything you could ask for from a safety. He was the very definition of a ball hawk, he was a sure-tackler, and it seemed like he was in the area of the play regardless of where the ball wound up. Whether he was jumping into the air to tip a ball back to himself or running the route better than the receiver to pick off a pass on the sideline, Hooker was truly a treat to watch.