Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins breaks up a pass intended for Michigan's Greg Mathews. The Buckeye seniors have a 43-7 record.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - It takes a long time to carve out a legacy - something like the painstaking construction of a large monument, one block of stone at a time. For Ohio State's senior class, there is just one piece left to put in place, and its legacy will be completed.
"You never really think much about it, until you get to this point, until you're where you can see the end of the line," OSU senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said late Saturday afternoon, in the moments after the Buckeyes (10-2) had pounded rival Michigan for a fifth straight time, further enhancing what is already a historic run.
While the Ohio State senior class nears the completion of its legacy, the OSU underclassmen know their role has also been a vital one.
"It was really important for all of us younger guys to give their senior season every positive, every high point we could, and especially get them another win over Michigan," junior receiver Brian Hartline said. "You feel a big sense of responsibility to get the job done for the seniors - it's all about sending them out the right way."
"Everybody was out there fighting for those seniors," OSU junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells said. "You don't want to let them down."
The senior Buckeyes are a 28-member hybrid group that has ballooned in size due to the quirks of the college football system that allow players to remain in the program a year longer if they skip a year of competition.
Some of the OSU seniors, such as linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, played right out of high school and are completing their fourth year here.
Others, such as linebacker Marcus Freeman and Abdallah, sat out a season either to gain strength, allow a major injury to heal, or to get their academics in order. One OSU senior - quarterback Todd Boeckman - enrolled midway through his first year at Ohio State, sat out the next season, and is completing his sixth year in the program.
"It is a big group, and even though some of us came at different times, you really bond as seniors," Freeman said. "You know it's your last time for camp, your last time playing in these Big Ten stadiums, your last home game - you get really close going through all that together."
After the Buckeyes beat Michigan on Saturday, the Ohio State seniors have a collective four-year record of 43-7. In the number of victories, that puts them even with the John Cooper-coached teams of the 1995-98 era, and the Jim Tersely teams from 2002-05.
Over the past four seasons, including the 2008 campaign that concluded with the 42-7 win over Michigan, the senior Buckeyes have lost only to Penn State and Illinois in Big Ten play, and dropped games to national powers Florida, Texas, Southern California and LSU.
"Certainly, when you're at Ohio State you want to win 'em all, but that's a great record, and something this group can be real proud of," Laurinaitis said. "We're like brothers, like family, and anything we accomplished we did through the strength of a great group of guys who committed themselves to this program, and to each other."
Tressel said the sweep of its series against Michigan is something that puts this large senior class in a prominent place in OSU history.
"It was a great day for those 28 seniors," Tressel said after the Buckeyes scored six touchdowns against their rivals, and the Ohio State defense forced Michigan to go three-and-out on offense 10 times. "We are just so proud of these kids to be able to have some of the accomplishments that our seniors have had."
Place-kicker Ryan Pretorius journeyed from his native South Africa via England five years ago to learn the American game and be part of this program, and this senior class. He said winning the bowl game and establishing the most wins by any OSU class would be significant, but it's the camaraderie inside the group that he will cherish most.
"Getting that record would be great, no question about it, especially when you think about all of the history at Ohio State, and the great players who have been here before us," Pretorius said.
"But the thing I will remember most about this group of guys is the relationships with my teammates. I've lived in six different countries, but these guys are my best friends in the whole world, my best friends for life."
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