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So far, no Ohio State players have joined others opting out of college football season

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (1) said his family is well set financially and that he isn't in a hurry to cash in on his NFL aspirations.

When Ohio State football coach Ryan Day spoke to players Wednesday on the eve of preseason training camp, he sought to deliver a reassuring message: They should not fear retribution if they decide to sit out the coming season.

“If, at the end of the day, they don't feel comfortable, their family doesn't feel comfortable, that doesn't mean they're not going to be part of the program,” Day said. “We're going to figure that out and make sure that we have a program in place until they do feel comfortable, whenever that might be.”

None of the Buckeyes has opted out, though as the season grows tenuous due to the coronavirus pandemic, a talent drain has begun across the college landscape, including in the Big Ten.

Since Tuesday, four players from other conference teams announced they will not play in 2020. The reasons vary. Some are elite NFL draft prospects ready to turn pro, such as Purdue receiver Rondale Moore, who was the latest to announce his departure, on Thursday night. He followed Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.

Others have raised larger health concerns about playing through a pandemic. Michigan State defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk will redshirt this fall, then return for another season.

In interviews this week, quarterback Justin Fields and cornerback Shaun Wade, the Buckeyes’ top NFL prospects, affirmed their plans to suit up for another go-round in college.

“I've always been a competitor,” Fields said. “I've always loved to play football. And me just growing up with my family, I've never really needed anything. I think my family has provided me with everything that I've needed.

“So getting to the money as fast as I can isn't really a priority for me. Just playing with my teammates and grinding every day during workouts and playing and stuff like that, that's what I'm cherishing the most right now.”

As a junior, he will be eligible to enter next year’s draft, where he is expected to compete with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, among others, to be the first quarterback selected.

Fields has started only one season at Ohio State, after transferring from Georgia last year. But he was plenty impressive to talent evaluators, leading the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff and finishing third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding player in college football.

Wade had the chance to turn pro after finishing last season as a third-year sophomore, before opting to return.

It was an opportunity to bolster his draft stock. With the departures of Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah, he was likely to move from slot corner to outside corner, giving him a wider array of experience in the secondary.

Both predecessors were first-round picks in April, with Okudah taken third overall by the Detroit Lions.

Wade had no regrets when asked about his decision. He hoped for another chance to play for the Buckeyes.

“I have no second thoughts, no thoughts about opting out,” Wade said. “I'm really just taking it day by day and enjoying what we have.”

With the uncertainty hanging over the season, Fields said he was “just trying to stay as optimistic as possible.”

For the Buckeyes, who debuted at No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll this week, there is no shortage of lofty preseason goals, serving as motivation to play in the coming season, despite the growing prevalence of opt-outs across the country.

Ohio State is among the national title favorites. Fields said he would like to see the championship trophy in the lobby of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, in addition to a variety of personal goals, including winning the Heisman Trophy and showing “everybody that I’m the best quarterback in the nation.”

If the stances of Ohio State’s players change in the weeks ahead, potentially because concerns about the virus grow, Day said he hoped to be transparent with the players and their families.

That was especially the case in light of a letter published by College Athlete Unity, an advocacy group representing more than 1,000 players in the Big Ten that proposed more stringent health and safety standards.

“I believe that they all should have a voice,” Day said, “and the communication we've had is if there are concerns, please bring them to me and bring them to your position coach. ’Have your parents call me, you please call me, so that I can advocate.’ Because that's what I want to do. I want to advocate for these guys, because they've worked so hard and they deserve it. So we keep those lines of communication open.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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