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Ohio State eager for another crack at football title

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com
Receiver Chris Olave walks off the field following the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson on Dec. 28. Coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes "really, really wanted" to return to the playoffs this year after last season's disappointing end.

The reaction, not surprisingly, was elation.

Ohio State football players linked into a zoom call Tuesday morning when university president Kristina M. Johnson gave them the good news. The Big Ten had reversed its August decision to postpone the season and would have a belated fall season starting the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Dreams of another crack at the College Football Playoff are alive after they seemed dead.

“Now we get the opportunity we asked for, to compete for a championship and get back into the CFP picture, which so many of them after they left the field last year against Clemson really, really wanted,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Wednesday, referring to the heart-breaking semifinal loss in the Fiesta Bowl last December.

Ohio State was No. 2 behind Clemson in the preseason rankings, and as special as last year’s team was, Day has said he believes this one could be better. Now they’ll get their chance.

Quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields, who led the push among players to keep hope alive for a season, reacted to the news of the Big Ten’s reversal with two words on Twitter: “Let’s gooooo!!!”

Day has worked behind the scenes to fight for a chance to play. He acknowledged the wrenching path to reach this point.

“I just think that’s what 2020 has been. It’s just a time of uncertainty,” Day said. “It hasn’t been easy for anybody. But to be able to look these guys in the eye and let them know that they have an opportunity to play and that their fight, they have something to show for it now.

“All the work that they’ve put in, now they have a chance to go play. They never wavered, and they just kept swinging. That was our mindset during this whole time: Just keep fighting. You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. There was faith without results. We didn’t have a target. They just kept working. They just kept going forward.”

The Buckeyes now will have to gear up quickly to get ready for the season. They have been limited by rules allowing them to work out for only 12 hours per week without wearing pads or helmets. Normally, the mandatory work week is 20 hours, though players routinely far exceed that voluntarily during the season.

Day said it will take a couple weeks before he has a true gauge on how prepared his team will be for the season.

“It’s different when you know you have a season,” he said. “Being the right body weight. Making sure you’re taking care of all your stuff recovery-wise. Making sure all those little things are checked off. It’s different than just kind of going out there and practicing.

“We do have a mature group so I expect this to ramp up real fast. Everybody is going to have a different look. People are going to be walking around the hallways different, bouncing around the field different. It just has a totally different look to it when you’re playing for something.”

The Buckeyes lost two stars from their roster in the last week when All-American right guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade announced they would leave Ohio State to begin preparing for the draft.

But Davis announced late Wednesday afternoon on Twitter that he had changed his mind and will return to the team.

Day earlier had said the door to their return is open.

“If they want to play, I believe they should be allowed the opportunity to play,” Day said. “This all came out fast. It’s moving quickly. So we’ll let them digest and see the conversations they’re having with their families what they want to do.

“They both shared with me that they want to play football. They want to be a part of this team. They want to play with their teammates. Now the opportunity is here.”

Wade, who turned 22 on Wednesday, appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in the afternoon and said he had not decided whether to return to the team.

“I knew it was going to come back but I didn’t know it was going to come back (so) soon,” Wade said. “I just want to enjoy my birthday. That’s all I want to do right now.“

In addition to his players, Day praised Ohio State’s leadership, including Johnson and athletic director Gene Smith for their support during a difficult time. Smith, in turn, credited Day for his role.

“I saw the emotional ups and downs that he endured along the path,” Smith said. “He never wavered in his ability to lead and hold our team together.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, shown against Clemson on Dec. 28, reacted to the news of the Big Ten's reversal with two words on Twitter: "Let's gooooo!!!"