By the time the Cincinnati Bengals made their selection in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft, it had already been a special night for Ohio State.
Seventeen picks after the Cleveland Browns selected Buckeye cornerback Denzel Ward with the No. 4 overall pick to keep him in his home state, the Cincinnati Bengals did the same for Buckeye center Billy Price, drafting him with the No. 21 overall pick, marking the first time since 1977 that the Browns and Bengals have both selected an Ohio State player in the same NFL draft.
Neither one of them, however, provided the most memorable moment of the night for Ohio State.
That moment came when the Pittsburgh Steelers made the No. 28 overall pick, not because of who they selected, but because of who announced the selection – and how he did so.
For the first time since he suffered a spinal injury in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals more than four months ago, former Ohio State football player Ryan Shazier walked in public, holding his fiancee Michelle’s hand as he made his way to the podium to announce the Steelers’ selection of Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds.
Thursday was certainly an unforgettable night for Ward, as he realized his childhood dream of not only playing in the NFL, but playing for his hometown team, having grown up just about a half-hour away from Cleveland in Macedonia, Ohio.
"It’s been my childhood dream, just to get here to the NFL draft, and to be drafted by the Browns and be able to go back home to my hometown and play there, it’s just a blessing, and I’m just so excited to get there and get to work," Ward said Thursday night in a conference call with Browns reporters.
Thursday was also a night that Price will never forget, as the Austintown, Ohio native was beside himself upon learning that he would be drafted by the team he had hoped would pick him all along.
"I looked at my agent and said, 'Holy shit, it's Cincinnati,'" Price said in a conference call with Bengals reporters. "This is exactly what I wanted in this draft."
Yet the enduring moment from Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft – the one that not only Ohio State fans and Steelers fans, but probably just about everyone watching, will remember from Thursday night – was the surprise appearance of Shazier, demonstrating his remarkable recovery less than five months after it was feared he might never walk again.
The moment was also a hallowing reminder – on a night where childhood dreams are made – of how cruel the game of football can be, as those who have decided to dedicate their lives to playing the game take the risk of suffer a debilitating injury every time they take the field. While Shazier has vowed that he will play football again, his steps were slow and his pain was evident as he made his way across the stage.
More than anything else, though, it was an inspirational demonstration of toughness and human spirit – the same toughness and human spirit that has led Ward, Price and many of the other players who were drafted on Thursday night to their success – as Shazier continued to show his resolute determination to defy the odds and do what others might not think possible.
Thursday wasn’t the most lucrative first round for Ohio State in terms of overall draft selections, as the Buckeyes actually had their lowest total of first-round picks in the past three years. After having five top-20 picks in 2016 and two top-15 with three total first-round picks in 2017, the Buckeyes had just one top-20 pick and two total first-round picks on Thursday.
Yet thanks to the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and especially Ryan Shazier, Thursday night’s first round could go down as one of the most memorable first rounds in Ohio State history.