COLUMBUS — Starting Monday, the story of C.J. Saunders will be told for a while at Ohio State.
Former walk-on, one-time cornerback who converted to wide receiver all before receiving a scholarship. Now, he’s one of Ohio State’s captains.
Saunders journey to captain may have some surprised, but Saunders isn’t. He knows his work ethic and the time he has put in at Ohio State. For him, it was just surreal.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” Saunders said when he met with the media Monday after the captains were announced. “The way that my career has progressed and how I have gotten to build relationships with my teammates, it’s something that I’ve strived for. It was never the biggest goal for me, but I think how I interacted with the wide receivers in my room and the offense and defense from there, building those relationships in the weight room and off the field.
“I wasn’t exactly surprised, but I’m very honored.”
Saunders was one of the seven Buckeyes to earn the distinction of captain on Monday. Six of them met with the media after Ohio State coach Ryan Day made the public announcement. Here’s what Lettermen Row learned from each new captain.
Chase Young embraces Ohio State culture, not just NFL factory
Chase Young could have been like many 5-star recruits: Serve the university for three years, use it as a springboard for the NFL and cash in on a big contract. But that’s not the way the junior from DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland has embraced what it means to be a part of Ohio State’s program, which allowed him to become a captain.
“Captain was definitely on my list,” Young said. “I never really visualized it like I did other things, but I feel like when I got more into the program, I got the meaning of being a Buckeye was, I was like, ‘Man, I want to be a part of that group of people who can lead a team.’ The opportunity was there, and I really took it.”
He always knew the NFL would be a dream, but once he bought into the program at Ohio State, so was being a captain. He had Tyquan Lewis as a leader when he was a freshman, a guy who pushed him the way he needed. Now that Young is a captain, he’s working on becoming a more all-around leader, trying to be encouraging, even when he yells and gets on the defensive linemen.
Young wants to be the hype man, and that’s what he is. Even the other captains agree.
Tuf Borland doesn’t worry about outside talk for Ohio State
Much was made of the linebackers a season ago, and that started with now two-time captain Tuf Borland, who was questioned as a playmaker all season last year. It even went as far as wondering if the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention performer would be starting this season.
Borland doesn’t worry about the outside noise, though. As he enters his second season as the starting middle linebacker and captain, Borland is focused on being humble and getting to work, not validating why he started last year.
“I don’t know if I did anything,” Borland said. “This team is just a fantastic group of guys. Really gelled together, really meshed, love being around each other. It’s just a great group of guys.”
After playing last year on a bad Achilles tendon, Borland feels much better this August compared to last.
“I feel great,” he said with a smile.
Jordan Fuller likes the mix between captains
Jordan Fuller has never been the guy most likely to stand up and yell during a timeout or halftime. He claims that’s Chase Young. But Fuller doesn’t have to do that for the Buckeyes.
After Ryan Day announced Ohio State’s captains, Fuller was able to evaluate the situation between he and the other captains, and he likes the diversity of leadership styles within the room. Some of the guys can lead by example. Some are vocal. Others provide a bit of both.
“I think we have a good mix of rah-rah guys as captains and also guys that you can come to on a personal basis,” Fuller said. “I’d say Chase is the most vocal right now.”
After a down defensive year a season ago, Fuller thinks the mix will be perfect for the Buckeyes entering this season.
Becoming a captain was part of plan for K.J. Hill
When Paris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin left for the NFL after last year, K.J. Hill could have followed his Ohio State teammates to the league. Instead, the fifth-year senior stuck around.
He had a plan for how he wanted his last season with the Buckeyes to play out. Part of that was being a captain. Once those guys all departed, Hill became the leader of the wide receivers instantly. His captaincy seals that.
“I’m the oldest person in the [wide receiver] room now and one of the oldest guys on the team, so I know with that experience, I had a good chance of being a captain,” Hill said.
He learned many things from the trio he looked up to, such as when to be vocal and how to handle being a captain. He had no reason t0 do that last year. They did it for him. Now, it’s K.J. Hill’s turn.
“I’m working on being more vocal,” he said. “I didn’t have to be vocal because of the guys previously, but now it’s like, it just shows that I am the guy now. With them being gone, I know what to expect. I feel like I have to be more vocal.”
J.K. Dobbins still working with chip on his shoulder
J.K. Dobbins doesn’t have to prove anything. The junior tailback has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, the only Buckeye to ever do so.
But don’t tell Dobbins he has nothing to prove. The way he practiced and trained this offseason was based on the belief that last year was a failure, and he has everything to prove when carrying the ball this season.
“I feel like I need to prove to people that I am the best running back in the nation,” Dobbins said. “I’m just working to do that. I’m going to take it day by day.”
He knows the way he’s been training and practicing. Day and running backs coach Tony Alford have both mentioned how hard Dobbins has worked to prove what he wants. But Dobbins knows that practice and training are one thing. Games are another.
He can feel how he is in practice, but won’t know if his training worked until Aug. 31 against Florida Atlantic.
“You can kind of get a feel in practice,” he said. “But I mean, it doesn’t matter until you do it in a game.”