COLUMBUS - As legend tells it, the Ohio State Buckeyes don't have to rebuild their football team from one year to the next - they just go to the shelf and reload it from the wealthy cache of talent stashed there.
By next Friday, Ohio State will know how much ammo it needs for that reloading process, but the early returns indicate that most of the Buckeyes with eligibility remaining are sticking around.
While junior defensive end Thaddeus Gibson announced yesterday that he will leave the team a year early for the NFL, fellow juniors Cameron Heyward and Chimdi Chekwa said they intend to stay at Ohio State in 2010 for their senior season.
That trio of players, along with defensive back Jermale Hines, were believed to be the Buckeyes who were most seriously pondering a leap to the NFL after last week's Rose Bowl victory over Oregon.
Seniors who have used all of their allotted eligibility leave the obvious vacancies for the Buckeyes, and Ohio State has seven of those openings to deal with as seniors who played starting roles while OSU won a fifth straight Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl title depart.
The wild card in the personnel picture for the 2010 team has been in the hands of the large group of Ohio State juniors. Over the past four years, the Buckeyes have seen 10 juniors leave early for the NFL, including Ted Ginn, Jr., Chris "Beanie" Wells, Antonio Pittman, Anthony Gonzalez, Vernon
Gholston, and Brian Hartline.
With yesterday's announcements, it appears the Buckeyes will not suffer a significant impact from early departures for the NFL. The deadline for making such a move is a little more than a week away, while the 2010 NFL Draft takes place April 22-24 in New York.
As of last night, only Gibson, Heyward, and Chekwa had made formal announcements of their intentions. The NFL requires that a player be three years out of high school before he can put his name on the potential draft list. The deadline to file for early entry in the NFL draft is Jan. 15, and a player has 72 hours after that deadline to change his mind.
Gibson, a Euclid, Ohio, native who had 82 tackles in his Ohio State career, released a statement thanking his coaches, his family, and teammates for their support.
"I am not leaving the Buckeye family," Gibson said. "I wish the team the very best in the upcoming years. I will keep in touch with my Buckeye family and I love them all. I will always bleed Scarlet and Gray."
Gibson earned all-conference honors this season with 13 tackles for loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had said before the Rose Bowl trip that he had submitted the names of nine juniors to the NFL for review as possible early entries in the draft, but he declined to be specific about which Buckeyes were in that group.
"I'm sure you can guess who - all of them are starters," Tressel said at the time, meaning the list would include most of these 12 juniors who have been starters for the Buckeyes - Gibson, Heyward, Chekwa and Hines, plus running back Brandon Saine, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, wide receiver and Central Catholic grad Dane Sanzenbacher, defensive back Devon Torrence, defensive lineman Dexter Larimore, and offensive linemen Justin Boren and Bryant Browning.
After paperwork is submitted, the current juniors receive feedback from the NFL Collegiate Advisory Committee on their projected status in the draft, and as long as they do not sign with an agent, the players do not risk losing their remaining eligibility, so there is no downside for OSU juniors to find out their potential value in the eyes of the pros.
Gibson and any other Buckeyes who opt to leave early will join a growing list of juniors who are headed for the NFL. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas (formerly Michigan) have all indicated they will enter the upcoming draft as juniors.
Heyward, whose father played in the NFL and who was the Buckeye many expected to draw the highest potential draft status of the OSU juniors, had said in Pasadena that he expected to be back here for the 2010 season, and last night he confirmed that.
"I am excited about next season," Heyward said. "I think the upside is very positive. I want to help our team achieve the goals of winning another Big Ten title and possibly accomplishing a national championship."
The graduate of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Ga., has 115 tackles during his three years as a Buckeye, and made the all-Big Ten team this season with 7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
Chekwa, who came to Ohio State from East Ridge High School in Clermont, Fla., was also a member of the Buckeyes' 2009 Big Ten champion 4x100 relay team. He has 103 career tackles and was named honorable mention all-Big Ten this past season.
"I am not ready to leave Ohio State," Chekwa said. "I am looking forward to being a leader on what can be a very special defense for the Buckeyes. After the Rose Bowl win, we are working toward accomplishing more great things, including another Big Ten title and a run at the national championship."
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As legend tells it, the Ohio State Buckeyes don't have to rebuild their football team from one year to the next - they just go to the shelf and reload it from the wealthy cache of talent stashed there. By next Friday, Ohio State will know how much ammo it needs for that reloading process, but the early returns indicate that most of the Buckeyes with eligibility remaining are sticking around.