Give Jeny and Kyle Borland credit. They picked an unusual name for their son, but it is a fitting one.
“I love it,” Tuf Borland said. “It’s just unique, I guess.”
A linebacker with that name better live up to it, and Borland does. The redshirt freshman from Bolingbrook, Illinois, has helped solidify Ohio State’s defense as the Buckeyes prepare for the Cotton Bowl against Southern California.
Borland filled in admirably at middle linebacker early this season after Chris Worley sprained his foot against Army. Following the Buckeyes’ defensive collapse in a 31-point loss against Iowa, Borland was reinserted into the middle, with Worley moving outside, where he’d played until this season.
At first, there wasn’t much choice. Outside linebackers Jerome Baker and Dante Booker were diagnosed with concussions after the Iowa game. But even after they healed, Borland remained at middle linebacker. Despite playing only part of the year, Borland is fifth on the team in tackles with 52 while showing good instincts and, naturally, toughness.
“I just have all the faith in Tuf Borland,” safety Jordan Fuller said. “He’s one of the hardest workers I know. When he went into the middle I was happy for him and knew our defense would be the same or even get better with him in there.”
Fuller chuckled when he recalled first meeting Borland.
“I thought that was the most football name I’ve ever heard in my life,” Fuller said.
It didn’t take long for him to realize how serious and mature Borland was, and Fuller sees it daily now that he rooms with him.
“I live with four guys,” Fuller said. “Three of us will be in the living room chilling, and Tuf will be in his room doing homework or watching film. He’s just very focused.”
Borland, who like Fuller is an Academic All-Big Ten honoree, said he has always been serious about his responsibilities.
“Everyone else has been going places, doing things,” he said. “I’ve always been, ‘No, I’m going to focus on what I need to focus on.’ I feel like that’s helped me a lot. I was the same way in high school.”
Even before Borland took over for good at middle linebacker, coach Urban Meyer raved about him.
“Tuf Borland to me is as valuable as anybody on the team,” Meyer said in late October about his role on special teams. “He’s the quarterback. He’s the guy who runs it.”
Now his role has expanded. Just don’t expect Borland to take credit for the defense’s improvement after the Iowa debacle.
“I think as a whole collective group, we all said this isn’t going to happen again,” he said. “We locked in. We focused unlike we had before and just prepared to play.”
Borland credited Worley for helping ease the transition with encouragement and advice. Worley is a senior and Baker could leave for the NFL, so Borland will be a leader on next year’s defense.
When asked what he prides himself in the most, Borland answered, “My will to play, my love to play. Coach talks about being an energy giver, and I try to do that.”