When Mike Weber walked off the field at AT&T Stadium following Ohio State's 24-7 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl, the Detroit native had tears in his eyes, and who could blame him?
The redshirt sophomore running back had been through perhaps more ups and downs than anyone on Ohio State's roster in 2017, and Weber was at a crossroads in his career after the Cotton Bowl came to a close. Would he leave Columbus for a career in the NFL, or would he return to Columbus, where he would have to compete with J.K. Dobbins for carries?
Ultimately, Weber chose to stay for his redshirt junior season after what he said was a positive conversation with Ohio State's coaching staff about what his role on the 2018 team would be.
"I heard what I needed to hear," Weber said Friday.
"It was 50-50 at that point," Weber continued when asked about whether he thought he was leaving on the field at the Cotton Bowl. "I really didn't know at that point. I really wanted to come back and finish what I started."
So what makes Weber confident that there will be enough carries to go around? Part of it has to do with who will be playing quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2018.
In each of his first two seasons, quarterback J.T. Barrett earned more carries than Weber. As the full-time starter in 2016, Weber carried the ball 182 times for 1,096 yards; however, it was Barrett that led the team in carries with 205. One year later, Weber – hampered by injuries – carried just 101 times while Dobbins led the team with 194. Barrett toted the ball less, but still carried the ball 64 more times than Weber.
With Dwayne Haskins expected to be Ohio State's starting quarterback next season, the Buckeye offense would likely feature less designed quarterback runs because of Haskins' skill set. That being the case, Weber said Friday that he expects more opportunities to run the football.
"I feel like it's going to help a lot," Weber said when asked about how a new quarterback would open opportunities for the running backs to get more carries. "In my first year, (J.T.) had more (carries) than me. I feel like those carries are going to hit us a little bit. The carries that the quarterback was having, it is good for us too."
Dobbins said Friday that he was still home in Texas following Ohio State's bowl game when he learned Weber had announced his decision to return for another season, and added that he and Weber didn't have a formal discussion about whether or not the veteran back would come back.
The two star running backs were on the field together for one play in the Cotton Bowl, on which the carry went to Parris Campbell, who also announced he is coming back for the 2018 campaign. The loaded backfield doesn't seem to bother Dobbins, though, as he said he believes both backs are capable of 1,000-yard seasons in the same backfield in 2018.
"That is the goal every year," Dobbins said. "I am not a selfish guy. I am a team player, so whatever I have to do to help the team win, that's what it is."
After looking at where NFL experts and analysts had him pegged in the 2018 draft, Weber said he believes another year in Columbus – even with the competition for carries – will benefit him moving forward.
"I feel like I am better than what was out there for me and I think another year can help that and I can make (my draft stock) even better," Weber said.