LOS ANGELES — Whether to leave for the NFL was the major question that Ohio State running back Mike Weber pondered, but whether to play in the Rose Bowl was never in consideration.
“Because people that would come at me about that, I would just shut it right down because I’m going to play,” said the junior running back, whose game vs. Washington on Tuesday will be his final one as a Buckeye. “I like playing football, so I’m going to play football.”
It was the same for Dre’Mont Jones. Like Weber, the Ohio State junior defensive tackle has announced his intention to forgo his senior season and apply for the 2019 NFL draft, but he also had no intention of skipping the Rose.
Jones said his motivation is “just to kind of finish what we started as a team. Nothing more beyond that. Personally, maybe get some more stuff on film.”
>>Video: Jones, Weber leaving for NFL but not before playing in Rose
It is the last chance for either to add one more outing to the video clips for NFL administrators, coaches and scouts, who will peruse them heavily between now and the draft, which begins April 25.
But many players who opted to leave early — including Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Devin Bush and Houston’s Ed Oliver — opted to sit out their team’s bowl games this season. Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward did it last year.
The physical jeopardy of playing in a high-level game is real, as anyone who saw Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffer a knee injury against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, or Pickerington native and Michigan tight end Jake Butt incur a similar injury in his bowl the next year can attest. It cost Smith tens of millions of dollars as his draft stock plummeted, and cost Butt millions as his did, too.
“You do (see the risk), because it’s there,” Jones said. “You play in this game, you can get hurt. I mean, you can almost get hurt every play with what we have to go through. I see it — I see the negatives of playing, but I do see the pros, and the pros outweigh the negatives a little bit.”
The pros: “Playing in the Rose Bowl, last shot with my teammates, get a chance to get better on film — a chance to do positive things against a really good team,” Jones said. “The only con is injury. But I can get hurt doing anything.”
While many fans have difficulty understanding why a player wouldn’t want to buckle it up one more time for Good Ol’ State U, retiring Ohio State coach Urban Meyer — headed into his last game Tuesday — said he usually has tried to remain neutral in such matters.
“I try to avoid that. I don't want to give my opinion because I don’t want someone to say, ‘Well, you told us to do this,’ ” Meyer said.
“Same thing with (players) leaving early. If you ask our opinion, then I try to talk to the general managers, etc., to try to make sure we give them good advice, not opinion.
“And the same thing with playing, I avoid that. If they ask me this, (I say) ‘It's a family decision, we’ll support you either way.’ ”
The decision is personal, but as Weber said, the feeling also is universal of the next game being the next chance to prove something.
“We all do — we all have something to prove every game,” Weber said. “Every time you buckle that chin strap, you’re playing for you and your brothers.”