Urban Meyer placed a premium on leadership for a reason.
Dating back to his days at Florida, he heralded guys like Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes for the role they played on his title teams.
That didn't change when he took over at Ohio State in 2012. He immediately went to work identifying guys who would set the tone for his team. That first season, it was players like John Simon and Zach Boren who fueled the 12-0 campaign. And over the years, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Joshua Perry, Evan Spencer and a host of others led by example for Meyer.
"Talent will get you about seven or eight wins," Meyer said in the summer leading up to his first season as head coach in Columbus. "Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that's when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team."
With guys like Malik Harrison, Jordan Fuller, K.J. Hill and Damon Arnette returning for their final season, new head coach Ryan Day has a solid crop of players who spurned the NFL to lead his first Buckeyes team.
The importance of that can't be understated, because Ohio State also lost a lot of talent and leadership to the draft.
There was Nick Bosa, who announced his intentions to leave midway through the season after suffering his core injury. But also losing Dwayne Haskins, Mike Weber, Michael Jordan, Dre'Mont Jones and Kendall Sheffield was a big hit for a team that needs all the leadership it can get with a new and first-time head coach at the helm.
But the key returnees are well placed.
Ohio State's biggest weakness last year was its defensive back-seven. Schematically, the Buckeyes' linebacker group was consistently out of position and the secondary gave up far too many big plays.
With Harrison, Fuller and Arnette back to run new co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's revamped scheme, the Buckeyes should be a lot better on that side of the ball.
But no position group was hit harder by graduation than wide receiver, as Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell all played their final games in the Rose Bowl. There's young talent on the perimeter, but Hill's return is huge for the wide receiver room — and not just from the outrageous playmaking side of things:
On that particular Saturday against Minnesota, Hill hauled in a season-high nine catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He was the second-leading receiver on the team behind the pop-pass catching machine in Campbell, and he'll be expected to lead the way in 2019.
And to his credit, Day appears to know the importance of identifying his on-field leaders and building continuity from the Meyer era to his own.
"We are all part of something special here at Ohio State," Day said at his introductory press conference. "The culture that Urban Meyer has created here is strong."
If it continues to be strong moving forward, it'll be in big part to the leadership Harrison, Fuller, Hill and Arnette provide this year.