Ohio State football captain C.J. Saunders likely to miss rest of season

Joey Kaufman
A knee injury has kept receiver C.J. Saunders off the field all season. [Joshua A. Bickel]

Ohio State wide receiver C.J. Saunders, one of the team’s seven captains, is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury, his father, Tim, told The Dispatch this week.

Saunders, a fifth-year senior, injured his meniscus during preseason practices in August, then aggravated the injury last month, a setback that jeopardizes the remainder of his college career.

Over the past week, Saunders had been seen walking with crutches.

“It shook him up at the very beginning, I think,” Tim said, “but after that, he’s handled it well. He’s in good hands with the trainers and doctors that are working with him and rehabbing him every day.

“And, yeah, I think he was expecting a lot more out of this year, it’s been a bummer he’s not out on the field, but mentally, he’s handled it well. He’s been mature about it. That’s sports. Sometimes you get a bad break, and that was a bad break.”

Saunders promised to be one of Ohio State’s feel-good stories this season when he was named a captain in August, a milestone in his path as a former walk-on from Dublin Coffman who joined the program in 2015 to become a valuable backup slot receiver behind K.J. Hill.

By 2017, Saunders had been awarded a scholarship, and he caught at least 10 passes in the previous two seasons.

Coach Ryan Day credited Saunders’ work ethic when he announced him as a captain.

“What matters is how he works in the weight room,” Day said, “how he practices, the way he handles himself off the field, the classroom.”

Ohio State can submit an appeal to the NCAA for Saunders to receive a sixth season of eligibility, but it was unclear if the school had done so. Tim Saunders said his son was undecided about a return beyond this season.

After missing the first five games, Saunders prepared for a possible return against Michigan State on Oct. 5 and was in uniform for the prime-time match-up after participating in warm-ups, but never appeared in the game.

Tim said his son’s knee “felt good that day” before it was aggravated in practice the following week.

As a captain, Saunders is expected to remain on the travel roster for the rest of the season.

Young won’t travel

Star defensive end Chase Young will remain in Columbus rather than travel with the team for its game at Rutgers on Saturday.

“He just wants to stay here,” Day said Thursday. “I think that's the right thing to do for us.”

Young is prohibited from participating in the game because of his two-game suspension, but is permitted to be on the sideline.

Some of the Buckeyes’ other injured or unavailable players, including Saunders and defensive end Jonathon Cooper, had traveled with the team for previous road games this season.

“He’s gonna stay back and lift and get himself ready for Sunday,” Day said, referring to the start of practices in preparation for the team’s following game against Penn State on Nov. 23.

Old friends

During his weekly radio show appearance on 97.1-FM, Day said he knew Rutgers interim coach Nunzio Campanile and his family from years ago.

Campanile’s older brother, Vito, was an assistant quarterbacks coach at New Hampshire when Day played there.

Campanile took over as the interim coach following the firing of Chris Ash in late September.

Jeff Hafley, the Buckeyes’ defensive co-coordinator, also said during the radio show that he was close with the younger Campanile, who was previously at Bergen Catholic, a high school powerhouse in Oradell, New Jersey, before he was hired as an assistant at Rutgers.

Hafley, a New Jersey native, spent one season as an assistant at Rutgers in 2011 and has often recruited the area.


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: