COLUMBUS - They will come down the ramp at Ohio Stadium to enter the field of battle a final time on Saturday. Twenty-eight Ohio State seniors - some in critical roles, some who won't play, some in street clothes and one in a wheelchair.
They will march in psychological lock-step, primed to face rival Michigan. The group owns a 42-7 record over the last three-plus seasons, has three Big Ten championships, has made two trips to the BCS national championship game and played in three BCS bowls.
The OSU seniors have beaten Michigan three straight times, while the Ohio State program owns four straight wins in the series. The senior class includes quarterback Todd Boeckman, injured linebacker Curtis Terry, and walk-on punter Tyson Gentry, who is partially paralyzed following a neck injury in 2006. With a victory on Saturday, and a bowl win, this would become the winningest four-year group in Buckeyes history.
"We haven't lost a lot of games in our time here," Ohio State senior fullback Brandon Smith said.
"I'd like to be remembered as part of a class that didn't fold the tent. We lost two [national] championship games, and guys could have left early [for the NFL] and said 'Forget Ohio State.' I want us to be remembered as a group of guys that were determined to finish strong and make the best of what we have."
For kicker Ryan Pretorius, the finality of the event will make it tough to maintain his composure. He has witnessed previous senior days, and knows what is coming.
"When you run onto the field, there's nothing like it," Pretorius said. "You see all the old people who have lettered before out there on the field, and you hug your mom and dad. I used to get tears in my eyes - I'm quite an emotional guy."
Linebacker James Laurinaitis expects the same - a gauntlet of emotions. He anticipates seeing his mom and his dad, a former pro wrestler, caught up in the sentiments.
"I'm sure my mom and dad will be a wreck," Laurinaitis said. "I say my dad too, because he will be. He'll have tears in his eyes. He's a big softy.
"But it'll be a cool moment to experience the tunnel of pride. I remember being a sophomore and seeing Troy Smith and those guys run down it and thinking to myself at that moment I can't wait till that day."
Laurinaitis, who was one of about a half dozen seniors who could have jumped to the NFL last year, said the group's affection for OSU will be evident.
"I really would want to be remembered as a class that just really loved this university," Laurinaitis said. "I think if you look at the guys that are seniors here, nobody came back to try to increase a draft stock, or nobody came back to do this or that, they just came back because they loved this place."
Linebacker Marcus Freeman said what he finds most significant about Saturday, outside of the Big Ten championship implications the game carries for the Buckeyes, is the honor of being a part of such a spectacle.
"I think it's going to be emotional just for the fact this is the last one," Freeman said. "It's going to be exciting because you get the chance to play in the biggest game in college football."
Defensive back Malcolm Jenkins was another one of the Buckeyes seniors who could have opted to take the money and run to the pros after last season. But Jenkins said witnessing previous senior days at OSU convinced him that such an event should not be missed.
"This is the week for me. This is the last one. This is what I came back for, senior day," Jenkins said. "I remember watching Troy Smith's senior day [in 2006] and thinking, 'I want to be a part of this.' I am going to take full advantage of this opportunity and soak it in and just enjoy myself."
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