In the 130 years of Ohio State football, only one Buckeyes player has been a three-time captain.
On Tuesday, linebacker Tuf Borland became the second, joining quarterback J.T. Barrett. Borland was named along with six teammates as captains of the 2020 team.
“It’s very humbling,” Borland said in a conference call. “I’m honored to be with a guy like J.T., who was an unbelievable leader here for a number of years.”
Barrett was a star at Ohio State after being thrust into the starting job as a redshirt freshman. Borland has been a starter, but he has often been overshadowed by flashier players. He has 180 tackles in a career that has included returning from an Achilles’ tendon injury in 2018.
On a deep linebacker unit, Borland isn’t even assured of a starting job this season, assuming there is one. But his status as a three-time captain serves as a testament to the respect he has earned.
Also named a repeat captain is defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who returns after taking a redshirt year caused by an ankle injury.
Ohio State’s other captains are junior quarterback Justin Fields, junior offensive guard Wyatt Davis, junior center Josh Myers, junior cornerback Shaun Wade and sixth-year senior linebacker Justin Hilliard.
In a season with so much uncertainty, leadership will be even more important than usual.
“There’s a huge responsibility that comes with that,” Borland said. “In a sense, all eyes are on you every day, so you have to attack every day with great energy and great demeanor because everyone will be watching.”
Coach Ryan Day said he believes the leadership on his team is strong.
“I think this group is really impressive in so many areas,” Day said. “When you look at their accomplishments and their young careers as a group, it’s already really long.”
Cooper will be the leader of Ohio State’s defensive line this year after a frustrating 2019. The Gahanna product was sidelined for much of the season. As the stretch run hit, Cooper decided to redshirt to play another season.
By doing so, he could only play in four games. He chose to play against Michigan for his final game, knowing that he would sit out the Buckeyes’ postseason. Cooper earned honorable mention Big Ten honors in 2018.
Fields had a brilliant debut season a year ago after transferring from Georgia. He threw for 41 touchdowns and ran for 10 with only three interceptions in becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist. He and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence are the favorites for the award this year.
Davis and Myers, along with tackle Thayer Munford, are the leaders on the offensive line. Davis, who plays right guard, is projected as a likely first-round NFL draft pick. The Californian was a consensus All-American pick in his first year as a starter.
Myers, from Miamisburg, stepped in to anchor the line at center last year. He was a second-team All-Big Ten pick in media voting.
Wade will lead a youthful secondary after deciding not to enter the 2020 NFL draft, in which he might have been a first-round pick. The Jacksonville native will move from slot cornerback to an outside spot and is expected to be the next in a long line of Buckeyes to go early in the draft.
Hilliard has overcome a series of injuries to become a key contributor and leader. The Cincinnati native is a two-time OSU Scholar-Athlete who earned his degree in marketing in May 2019. Hilliard was Ohio State’s 2019 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.
No sixth year for Saunders
Receiver and former walk-on C.J. Saunders was a captain last year, but his appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility has been denied, Day said Tuesday.
Day said Saunders will remain with the team in a coaching role.
“He’s got coaching in his blood,” Day said, referring to Saunders’ father, Tim, who recently retired after a long career as Dublin Coffman’s baseball coach. “He wants to be a part of this season.
“We all thank C.J. for everything he’s done for our program. We’re certainly disappointed he can’t play, but we’re excited that he’s still going to be a part of our program this year.”