When Urban Meyer stepped to the podium to speak to the media for only the second time since learning his No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes would take on No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl New Year's Day, he opened the floor for questions.
A reporter quickly prompted Meyer with the concept of a potential "mass exodus" from the program upon the completion of the 2015 season — with so many talented NFL Draft-eligible players coupled with one of the most successful senior classes in program history, the Buckeyes face an imminent roster turnover.
"The focus is on this bowl game," Meyer said Thursday, at first deflecting a question about how many non-seniors could turn pro after the Buckeyes and Irish meet in Glendale, Arizona.
Then, Ohio State's head coach delved a bit into how he plans to break up bowl practices, trying to balance getting those starters that are likely around for just one last hurrah ready for the game while also preparing the younger players for their shot in 2016.
"There's a group of young players, the Malik Hookers and Isaiah Princes of the world, Jerome Bakers, that are going to be heavily counted upon next year," Meyer said.
Prince is set to replace Chase Farris at right tackle. Baker will likely step in for Joshua Perry or Darron Lee at outside linebacker, provided the latter turns pro. But Hooker, he is a strong candidate to be the guy filling the shoes of one of the most successful safeties Ohio State has ever seen don the scarlet and gray: Vonn Bell.
"Me and Mike Doss have a little saying," Bell said Thursday. "I feel like I’m one of the best safeties to ever come out of here, that’s my little comment to him. I guess I’ll try to look back on it, but I’ve got to do my homework on that, too."
Doss was a first-team All-American from 2000-02 in Columbus, winning the BCS National Championship under Jim Tressel his senior season. Bell, a junior, earned his first All-American nod this season. He, like many of those before him including Doss, will have a tree planted in Buckeye Grove come spring.
“I can bring my kid back and see that. It’s an honor because this football program has been going on for a long time, just being a part of that is a huge accomplishment for me and my family.”– Vonn Bell on his All-American tree in Buckeye Grove
"I can bring my kid back and see that," Bell said. "It’s an honor because this football program has been going on for a long time, just being a part of that is a huge accomplishment for me and my family."
Tyvis Powell hasn't earned a spot in Buckeye Grove yet since he's been in the program, but like Bell, enjoyed a slew of success roaming the back end of Ohio State's defense. Stepping into a starting role with Bell to begin last season, the two were instrumental parts to Chris Ash and Luke Fickell's complete overhaul of the Buckeye secondary.
"I can tell you, I can check off a lot of things on my list. I’ve actually done that a couple of times," Powell said. "I’ve got a lot of things that I’ve accomplished."
Both Bell and Powell are Big Ten and national champions, and the latter is a team captain this season. Powell has also already earned his degree, having redshirted in 2012. The duo have started 27 games in their careers and been a part of 25 victories.
"I feel like I’ve done it all," Bell said.
Added Powell: "The No. 1 thing is definitely to get the degree for Mother and believe it or not, the second thing was to become a captain and when I got elected captain, that was big relief. So there’s a lot of things that I wanted to do when I was here that I actually have accomplished already."
Bell is more talented than Powell, a natural playmaker that came to Ohio State as a five-star, must-have prospect out of Rossville, Georgia. Powell, on the other hand, committed to Ohio State shortly after Jim Tressel resigned in 2011 out of Cleveland. He's a lifelong Buckeye fan.
Bell saw some time as a true freshman, but both guys had to wait their turn for a chance to be the pillar of stability the Buckeyes needed on the back of the defense. Once give a chance, they did not disappoint.
The two combined for 14 interceptions (six for Powell, eight for Bell, who also returned one for a score this season) and 22 passes broken up in the two years they were starters. A total of 180 tackles between the two of them breathes the steadiness you need from the last line of your defense.
"My work has been proven on film and what you’ve been watching all season throughout my career here," Bell said. "I think I’ve really proved myself and I’m very excited for that."
Bell is likely to turn pro after the 2015 season comes to a close—he's a projected second-round pick. Powell could leave too, but isn't as highly regarded.
No matter when they each decide to go, there's a reason Meyer singled out Malik Hooker as someone who must be ready to perform as early as next year with one, if not possibly two, spots opening up at safety. Bell and Powell grew into best friends off the field—each with their own personality—and dynamic players on it.
"Maybe we’ve inspired kids," Powell said. "There’s definitely a bunch of kids that’s been running around Ohio like, ‘Yeah, Ohio State won.’ And that might be the spark that they need to always want to come to Ohio State.
"It might inspire them like it inspired me. If that is the case, then I really can leave this place, I can die. All I want to do is inspire somebody. If I can inspire one person on this Earth to do good, then I can rest in peace. That’s just like my No. 1 goal in life."