It’s hard to catch passes with tears in your eyes, which is why Ohio State receivers Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon hope to keep their feelings in check Saturday until the end of The Game — their last home game — in Ohio Stadium.
“I can’t quite let my emotions get in the way of everything,” McLaurin said.
At stake for all three fifth-year seniors and captains, leaders on a team that’s dealt with all kinds of adversity this season, is a fifth pair of gold pants, the trinkets awarded to every OSU player after a victory over Michigan. Also on the line is the Big Ten East title and a spot in next week’s Big Ten title game against West Division winner Northwestern and staying in the running for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Though the Buckeyes are No. 10 in the CFP rankings, a win over No. 4 Michigan could lead to a major leap.
>> Video: Ohio State's Campbell, McLaurin on last home game
But like the other nine Buckeyes exhausting their eligibility this season, they will be introduced one by one before kickoff, trotting out with roses for their family members down the field.
“It’s been a long time coming, it’s been a long road,” Campbell said. “I’m going to walk into that stadium, get called out for senior day, just look up and see 110,000, because I’m sure that place will be packed. I’ll see my family waiting for me at the end of the line.
“I’m sure I will be emotional, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of what’s at stake. Come kickoff there’s still the mission ahead.”
Yet if someone were to say “that’s it” on the season just before kickoff, McLaurin, Campbell and Dixon could stand tall in perpetuity knowing they helped provide leadership for a team that could have wandered way off track.
“Those three receivers, they’ve been great,” OSU director of football performance Mickey Marotti said a few weeks ago.
Fifth-year senior right guard Demetrius Knox noted that Marotti forecast as much five years ago.
“I remember when we first came in and coach Mick talked about how much of a key role they were going to have in our future at Ohio State,” Knox said. “When three of them became captains this year it reverted back to what coach Mick said. They’re important parts of our team.”
They have been worthy captains, he said.
“They know how to command a room, not just because of their voice but because they show every day, whether it’s practice or in the games, the weight room,” Knox said. “Being a captain, all eyes are on you. And they do everything to perfection.”
Dixon said stepping up came with being an elder member of the team, much as he watched others do before him.
“It’s been a blessing to be a part of this program and to represent this great university,” Dixon said. “It’s humbling to be named a captain, and you just want to make sure you do your part.”
Which took the story back to late July, when coach Urban Meyer fired their receivers coach Zach Smith. A week later, Meyer was put on paid administrative leave and eventually suspended for the first three games of the season as the university looked into his handling of Smith, whose former wife had accused him of domestic violence.
Going into preseason camp, the receivers had a new coach in Brian Hartline and an acting head coach in Ryan Day. Getting leadership from within the team was paramount.
“It was a challenge for sure,” Campbell said, and the additional burden came four games ago when the Buckeyes were beaten 49-20 by Purdue. “We had ups and downs of adversity hit us left and right. We kind of feel like we’ve been in a title fight this whole season. We’ve been getting uppercutted, hooked all over the place.
“We kind of stood strong, took it punch by punch, adversity by adversity, and just handled it day by day.”
Their goals are still in front of them, too, which makes that run down the field in pregame seem premature. Yet they can’t help but have nostalgic thoughts.
“I’ll see my parents down there, I know that will be a little emotional for me,” McLaurin said. “Just suiting up for the last time in Ohio Stadium, I just hope people know I gave it everything I had on offense, special teams, as a leader.
“I worked hard from when I was a recruit to when I’m walking out the door. Going out with a win, that’s what I hope to accomplish.”