Luke Wypler hasn’t followed the conventional path most of his life.
Even the onset of the COVID pandemic affected him differently than most. For him, it provided a needed respite.
Wypler was an early-enrollee freshman when Ohio State started spring practice in March 2020. Though he played primarily offensive tackle at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey, Wypler was recruited as a center.
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The transition to his new position was a rough one. He wasn’t used to snapping the ball, let alone having to block veterans such as Tommy Togiai and Antwuan Jackson.
Ohio State’s first practice in pads was the Friday just before spring break.
“I remember I had probably the worst experience ever on a football field,” Wypler said. “I had like three bad snaps. I was (pushed back) in the backfield half the time. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Holy crap, what did I get myself into?’
“I was in the Uber on the way to the airport like, ‘Damn, this is going to be a long spring ball. I better get my act together.’ "
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Even better, he thought to himself, how nice it would be if he could have a few months off to regroup and not have to return to Columbus for a while.
“Little did I know, COVID was right around the corner,” Wypler said. “It was well-timed, to say the least.”
The rest of spring ball was canceled. Players stayed scattered around the country and had to improvise workouts on their own. For Wypler, the couple of months away proved to be a turning point. He knew how hard he had to work to raise his game and welcomed the challenge.
“I didn’t want to come to a school where I walked in the first day and it was like, ‘Oh, this is easy,’ ” he said. “That wouldn’t be fun.”
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He immersed himself in the Ohio State playbook. He made sure he stayed in shape and worked on his fundamentals, with an assist from an unlikely person – his mom, Michele Desimone.
“She would hold a blocking bag for me,” he said. “She’s pretty much the reason I was able to improve during COVID.”
Luke Wypler's mom holds blocking bag for the OSU offensive lineman
Video provided by Luke Wypler, The Columbus Dispatch
Wypler played in only one game that abbreviated 2020 season but became the starting center unexpectedly last year and now is the leader of the Buckeyes’ offensive line.
“I love him to death,” quarterback C.J. Stroud said. “He's my brother for life. He’s super smart, the smartest O-lineman I've ever met in my life.”
Luke Wypler was 'non-stop'
Wypler credits his mom for his brains. He was close to a 4.0 student in high school, is a two-time OSU Scholar-Athlete and was Academic All-Big Ten last year.
Desimone is a longtime nurse, has a Ph.D. and has taught college courses.
“She’s the type of woman who worked Christmas, worked every holiday to always make sure that her patients were taken care of,” Wypler said. “My mom is just a giver. That’s the best way to describe her. She’s taught me some of the best lessons of my life.”
He gets his athletic prowess from his dad, Al Wypler, who was a linebacker at East Stroudsburg State in Pennsylvania.
“My mom's always like, 'You're the perfect combination of both of us,' ” Wypler said.
Luke describes his dad as “a doer.”
“The best compliment I can give him is he just gets stuff done,” he said. “You can never tell my dad he can’t do something. Whatever it possibly could be, he finds a way to get it done somehow, some way.”
That describes Wypler, as well. He has been strong-willed from the start.
“Luke was nonstop. Nonstop,” Desimone said. “There was a point when he was about 4 years old that I had to lock him in the hotel room on a vacation and sit outside because I couldn't take him anymore. He's a very willful go-getter. He is adventurous, and he does not stop.”
Luke is the only child of Al Wypler and Desimone, who are divorced. But he has four half-siblings, and Luke said they are as close as any full siblings.
When Luke was 14, he visited his older brother Daniel, who then lived in Australia, and they went skydiving in New Zealand. When Luke was a teenager, he performed a few times as a stand-up comic at a club. His mom said he’s an expert juggler.
Luke Wypler 'kept earning it'
Wypler excelled at several sports as a kid, including baseball, lacrosse and hockey. But he didn’t think of himself as unusually gifted.
“I wouldn’t say I was ever the best player or the most talented kid on any team I ever played on,” he said. “I think that's always motivated me to get better.”
Eventually, football became the sport he decided to pursue most seriously. He lived with his mom in central New Jersey growing up, but after junior high Luke decided he wanted to move in with his dad and attend St. Joseph High School, his dad’s alma mater. St. Joseph has an elite program and plays top competition.
Wypler loved living with his dad.
“It was pretty much like living in a frat house at 14 years old,” he said. “College hasn’t really fazed me too much. It was a good time. It was like living with your best friend.”
Al Wypler remembers it a bit differently. He said he didn’t coddle Luke, and neither did St. Joseph.
“It was time to grow up, and he did,” Al said. “He grew up. That's why I think he is where he's at because he was put in a position of ‘This is what you want? This is what you've got to do to earn it.’ He kept earning it and earning it.”
Early at St. Joseph, Wypler thought he’d max out at a Patriot League-level college. Then as a sophomore, he got a scholarship offer from North Carolina State, and the offers poured in after that, eventually including one from Ohio State.
Life with Thor the dog
Wypler was thrust into the starting job just days before last year’s opener at Minnesota when projected starter Harry Miller couldn’t play. He’s held it ever since.
“Luke is typical of a center,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “He's Type A. He wants to get everything right. He takes a lot of pride in his work and works really hard. I see him in here getting extra work, watching extra film.
“That's what you want out of your center because he's the guy who's got to get everybody together. He does a very, very good job of that. You’ve got to be a good communicator. You’ve got to be able to process high levels of information. You’ve got to be able to make in-game adjustments, and he really feeds off of that.”
Quarterbacks and centers are often tight. Stroud and Wypler bonded from their shared experience as first-time starters last year and the mutual respect they have for each other’s affinity for film study.
“He’s a cool guy,” Stroud said. “You can tell that he comes from a strong household.”
Al Wypler comes to every game, happy to rough it. For road games, he’ll fly to the location the night before, sleep in the airport and then take public transportation to the game.
Home games are now simpler. Al has moved to Columbus and bought a house on the West side that he and Luke share. But Al said he bought the house more for Luke’s beloved 125-pound Rottweiler, Thor, than for either him or his son.
“If there was ever a reincarnated human being in a dog, it would be Luke and Thor,” Michele Desimone said. “They are precocious, bull in a china shop.”
Her son wouldn’t dispute that.
“My whole fear in life is I don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if?’ ” Wypler said. “I always try to go at everything full speed and never have any regrets.”