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What We Learned about Ohio State during Heisman Trophy weekend

Joe Burrow-Jalen Hurts-Chase Young-Justin Fields-Heisman Trophy
Ohio State had two finalists in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. (Todd Van Ernst/Heisman Trust)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned about Ohio State during Heisman Trophy weekend

NEW YORK — Ryan Day strolled out of the PlayStation Theater in another sharp suit jacket with a wide smile on his face and hopped in the black van taking the Ohio State traveling party back home.

The Buckeyes didn’t get to bring the Heisman Trophy back home. But it was hard for Day to see what happened on Saturday night at the ceremony as anything other than a huge win — both for him personally and for the program.

He got to see a quarterback he used to coach win the sport’s biggest individual prize and got a huge hug from Joe Burrow. His current passer finished third in his first season leading the Buckeyes, and Justin Fields is the frontrunner to win it all next year. Chase Young broke through as a rare finalist on the defensive side of the ball, and J.K. Dobbins gave Ohio State three players in the top-six of the final vote.

“Is that what it was? Wow,” Day said. “That was such a special experience there, and it’s really a tribute to all of those kids for the hard work, the toughness and effort they’ve all put into it.

“Man, that was cool.”

The Buckeyes certainly enjoyed the moment in Times Square, and the guys who got to share it will never forget Heisman Trophy weekend. But now it’s time to turn the page and get back to work before the College Football Playoff, and that’s just one of the lessons learned by Lettermen Row after two days in New York.

Kerry Coombs-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Former Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is a top target for Ryan Day. (Matthew Emmons/Imagn)

Kerry Coombs is top priority for Ohio State

The Buckeyes had hoped to hang on to Jeff Hafley for at least one more season, but Friday night it officially found out the co-defensive coordinator was heading to Boston College to take over his own program. The timing for Ohio Sate isn’t ideal for a couple reasons, although Hafley will continue to coach through the College Football Playoff and an effort to replace him quickly and ease the concerns of defensive back recruits appears to be underway.

The top target for the Buckeyes: Kerry Coombs. The former Ohio State cornerbacks coach left the program to try his hand in the NFL, and he’s continued to have a positive impact with the Tennessee Titans. The option to return is almost certainly going to be up to Coombs, with Ohio State prepared to make a significant financial offer and already working behind the scenes to see if it’s possible for him to make recruiting calls while still with the Titans and while Hafley finishes out his duties in the postseason. There are other names in the mix at the NFL level, and Ohio State has had discussions about another former assistant returning with Chris Ash on the market. But Coombs is clearly at the top of the list for the Buckeyes.

Chase Young focused on Ohio State ‘mission’

Chase Young is going to make a decision and announce it on his own terms, not to a stranger on camera in the middle of Times Square. The Ohio State defensive end was clearly caught off guard by the question about his future on Friday, and his off-the-cuff answer opened up speculation that he might be considering a return next season. That, of course, is extremely unlikely and nobody at Ohio State expects that outcome — and Young is trying not to talk about anything but the “next mission” at the Fiesta Bowl.

“That moment was just a real spontaneous moment,” Young said. “It caught me off guard. I’m not even really worried about anything in the future, I’m just worried about beating Clemson right now.”

Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young was a Heisman Trophy finalist. (Austin Ward/Lettermen Row)

Justin Fields trying to ditch knee brace for Fiesta Bowl

There were special workouts prescribed by team medical personnel for his knee, exercise bikes in the hotel to get it warmup up and compacts in his room when he had free time to squeeze in some rehab. Maybe traveling wasn’t ideal for Justin Fields and his sprained left knee, but a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation was certainly worth it — especially as a scouting trip for a potential return next year.

Fields is still planning to wear the bulky knee brace when the Buckeyes resume practice on Monday. But there’s a chance he could be scaling back to a lighter version next week in Arizona, and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be able to ditch both of them in time to play Clemson.

“We had a little run-through on Tuesday, so I just slipped on a knee brace and jogged around and stuff like that, just trying to get it moving, really just trying to get the full range of motion back in it,” Fields said. “Really, it doesn’t hurt walking around, it’s just kind of tight every now and then. I’m just trying to get the motion back.

“[Using the brace], that’s just really day by day. It depends on how I feel on that certain day. I’ll probably practice with the knee brace on next week, and then depending on how my knee feels, work into a smaller knee brace — and then hopefully I’ll be feeling as good so I don’t have to be wearing a knee brace at all.”

Chase Young, Justin Fields bond gets tighter

The superstars on both sides of the ball are quick to crack jokes at the expense of the other, and that certainly helped them find ways to stay entertained during a taxing week of media appearances around the country and in New York. Young would tease Fields about how Burrow could still be starting ahead of him at Ohio State, and the quarterback has proven he could return fire by pointing out when other guys are getting sacks instead of the junior defensive end.

Really, though, it’s two high-achieving guys trying to motivate the other to greatness. And with the duo making history at the Heisman Trophy ceremony, it’s a reminder of just how much elite talent is on hand for the Buckeyes heading into the final push for a national title.

“Yeah, I’m always messing with Justin,” Young said. “I know there was one time when I wasn’t leading the nation in sacks and he was like: ‘That dude from Oregon State is better than you.’ We’re always going back and forth motivating each other.”

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.