My #1 Favorite Ohio State Buckeye: Ryan Shazier

Career Statistic Resume: 317 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, five fumbles forced, one interception (a pick-six), five pass deflections, one punt blocked, 2013 first-team all-American

I spent way too much of my time internally debating how I would place each of the players on this list. There were hour-long sessions where I just sat on my bed and contemplated the implications of having one ranked ahead of the other. That is, all except for number one.

Ryan Shazier has and always will be my guy.

On the field, he was a force of nature, a tackling menace at the linebacker position that fearlessly roamed the field like a heat-seeking missile, always keeping everything in check. He was the engine that drove the defense of the undefeated 2012 squad, breaking out as a full-time starter, and providing moment after moment.

His peak had to be the game in Madison, Wisconsin. Playing a very good Badgers team, Shazier was a reckless ball of chaos, crashing into players left and right to the point that you became worried about his own physical safety. With under three minutes remaining in a one-score game, everyone knew that Wisconsin was giving it to Montee Ball on fourth-and-goal, as the star running back was only one touchdown away from breaking the college football record for career touchdowns.

A player jumping over the top of the pile and into the end zone is one of the most unstoppable plays in all of sports. How is a defender supposed to stop the full-force momentum of another athlete?

Well, Shazier had an idea.

“But wait!,” you might be saying, “Isn’t Shazier the one who caught that forced fumble? Shazier is wearing the number two in the feature image of this article, and number two clearly is the one who caught that fortuitous football.”

Number two is Christian Bryant, a junior safety on the team in 2012, who returned for his senior season, only to break his ankle and lose that final year while playing this same Wisconsin team. In order to honor his injured teammate, Shazier changed his number from number 10 to number two. An artificial number didn’t matter to him. Honoring one of his comrades did.

However, this wasn’t the first time Shazier had dawned another number other than his typical 10. Earlier in the 2012 season, Gary Curtis, a high school friend of Shazier’s, died from muscular dystrophy prior to the team’s game against Penn State. To honor him, Shazier wore number 48 for that contest, and made the defining play of that game.

Shazier also recorded two sacks in that game, and was a major reason that Ohio State was able to grind out that win over a good team in a tough environment.

Perhaps Shazier is such a great guy off the field because of what he’s suffered himself. Shazier has a rare condition called alopecia—an autoimmune disease that prevents the growth of hair on the body. He’s had it since a very young age and had to endure constant insults from others based off of his unusual appearance, and that’s likely why he’s always looking out for others.

Of course, as any NFL-fan would know, the worst was yet to come for Shazier. He was four years into a very promising career that included playoff heroics and two Pro-Bowl selections, and was having another great performance for his Pittsburgh Steelers, when he landed awkwardly after a tackle, and would never be the same again.

Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury that left him completely immobilized for a long period of time. He has since made progress in his recovery, and is getting closer to walking normally again, but what was potentially a great and maybe even Hall-of-Fame career for him was derailed.

Yet, Shazier moves on. He’s still active in the Pittsburgh community and even within the Steelers organization, who recently placed him on the players’ retired/reserved list. He approaches life with fire and joy in everything that does. I would love to have the same personality and demeanor of Shazier.

We want to be inspired by our athletes, both on the field and off. Rarely can they do both. Shazier was that rare guy. After playing part-time as a freshman in 2011, the worst season in modern Ohio State history, he was the best player on the defense that won 24 straight games and took the program from “pretty good” to “national title-good.”

I never got to play football, but I spent hours, days even weeks imagining what position I’d play and how I would play. I eventually decided that I’d want to be a linebacker, an enforcer free to roam the back line and intimidate offensive players with my ferocious, frothing-at-the-mouth play style. It’s easy looking back now to realize that Shazier is the player I wanted to be like.

Ohio State football never meant more to me than from that 2012-15 period, about the time I was in middle school, and I was really getting into watching sports. The Eagles were up-and-down, the Sixers were intentionally losing and Ohio State’s basketball team was getting into a bit of a rut following the departure of Aaron Craft. I needed a team that was winning, a team that was fun to follow.

Ohio State football was that team, and Ryan Shazier, far and away, was my favorite player on that team. He’s my favorite football player of all-time, my favorite Buckeye of all-time and barring a really special player in the future, he’s going to hold that position for a very long time.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:

Hey everybody, as any of you who have followed my blog are aware, I am currently in my first year as a student in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I first started this website under the name “NBAEveryDaySite.com,” which was admittedly a terrible and horrible name for a website. In my defense, I was 15 and somehow a bigger idiot back then.

After a long hiatus, where I had stopped writing almost entirely, I decided to revitalize my blog, and renamed it “The Philly Buckeye.” Those were the two things that mattered the most in my sports life. Phladelphia’s professional sports teams and the Ohio State football and basketball teams. They were both major parts of my identity, so it made sense to incorporate both of them into the name of my blog.

Eventually, I decided that I actually wanted to turn this into profession. I applied to multiple colleges, and applied as a journalism major to several of these places. One of the places I considered going was Ohio State, but I ultimately decided on Northwestern, because I wanted to be the best sports writer possible, and Medill is the best journalism school there is.

It doesn’t really make sense to call this blog “The Philly Buckeye” anymore because I am, in fact, a “Wildcat,” as one would have it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still love Ohio State, that I don’t still have an affinity for that Buckeyes on the football field, but it does mean that I’m not going to write about them on this blog anymore. I already have two great writing gigs for two different websites: InsideNU, where I cover all things in the world of Northwestern sports, and Liberty Ballers, where I get to write about my beloved Philadelphia 76ers.

That probably means I won’t be freelance writing on this website any time soon, and definitely not about Ohio State. I just wanted to get these last two posts out there to officially finish the project I started last summer.

figured it was time for a brand change, so I’m officially changing the name of this platform to, “Back to the Basket.” That will also be the new name of my YouTube channel and my podcast, where I will continue to create content exclusively on basketball, and I’ll leave links to those productions here on this website. I hope you all enjoy it and continue to follow me no matter where I’m publishing. 

Thanks again, you guys are the best.