Kevin Woidke told Ryan Day after this past season that his goal was to earn a scholarship this year.
While he planned to stick around for one more year and play his fifth-year senior season for the Buckeyes regardless, he wanted Ohio State’s new head coach to know that he had aspirations of being more than just a walk-on.
“I had a meeting with Coach Day and I was like, ‘Hey Coach Day, I just want you to know, my goals are to earn a scholarship. If it doesn’t work out, I’m still going to be here to help the team.’ But I just wanted him to know off the bat what I was looking to do,” Woidke said.
Woidke’s wish came true before spring practice even began.
Sitting in the training room after a team workout on Feb. 11, Woidke was approached by assistant offensive line coach Eric Miscuda, who told Woidke that Day needed to see him in his office.
When Woidke walked into Day’s office, he saw the scholarship papers sitting on the head coach’s desk.
Woidke didn’t necessarily expect that moment to happen, but he’s proud that it finally did.
“It means a lot,” Woidke said this week when asked about receiving a scholarship. “Coach Day gave me the opportunity, and I’m not going to pass up on it. He told me I had to work hard, and I understand what’s coming with it, and I’m happy I could work my way into this position.”
Hard work is the reason why Woidke is a scholarship player now, as he’s been doing anything and everything the Buckeyes have asked him to do since he joined the team as a walk-on in 2015.
A product of Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School, Woidke received scholarship offers from several FCS schools, including Fordham and Indiana State, and also talked to multiple Ivy League schools – including Columbia, where he was recruited by Matt Thurin, who is now a defensive quality control coach at Ohio State.
Woidke decided to walk on at Ohio State instead, however, after receiving a text from his former St. Ignatius teammate Kyle Berger, a linebacker for the Buckeyes at the time, letting him know that there could be a spot for him on the team.
“He said, ‘Hey, would you be open to do this?’ and then I came and visited,” Woidke recalled. “And I knew I wanted to come to Ohio State, so I walked on, and I wanted to stick around for a year ‘cause a lot of people put themselves on the line for me to be here, so I wanted to at least give them that. And then I fell in love with it, and I’m still here four years later.”
As a walk-on, Woidke’s primary role over the past four years has been lining up wherever the Buckeyes have needed him to in practice, and he believes his effort in that role is what ultimately led him to get rewarded with a scholarship.
“I’ve done anything we’ve needed to win,” Woidke said. “I’ve played tackle, guard, scout team tight end, whatever we need to win I’ve done, and my work ethic in that has put me in this position.”
Even though he is an offensive lineman, he hasn’t played a single offensive snap in his Ohio State career. He has established himself as a regular on the Buckeyes’ field goal team, though, playing in all 14 games last season as a “rocker,” lining up between the tackle and the wing (second from the outside of the line) in protection on field goals and extra points.
“I think my offseason work kind of put me in that position, because going into my sophomore year, the winter and spring, (former offensive line coach Ed) Warinner noticed me and then (current offensive line coach Greg Studrawa) obviously came in and he’s like, ‘We need to find a spot for this kid,’” Woidke said. “So they put me in at rocker, and I’ve thrived there ever since.”
“Coach Day gave me the opportunity, and I’m not going to pass up on it. He told me I had to work hard, and I understand what’s coming with it, and I’m happy I could work my way into this position.”– Kevin Woidke on receiving a scholarship
Woidke has also excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors for each of the past two years and Ohio State Scholar-Athlete honors for the past three years. Majoring in real estate and urban analysis in Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, Woidke plans to pursue a career in commercial real estate – either back in his hometown of Cleveland or staying in Columbus – after graduating from Ohio State.
Beyond the experiences he’s had with the Buckeyes on the field, he’s also grateful for the off-field opportunities provided by the Ohio State football program, including Real Life Wednesdays, through which he has had the opportunity to meet influential figures in the business world like Nike co-founder Phil Knight and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault.
“It’s life-changing. You don’t get this anywhere else, you really don’t,” Woidke said. “You don’t get opportunities like that unless you come to a place like this.”
Woidke was recognized last season as Ohio State’s nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded to college football’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. Now, he’s received even more recognition by being placed on scholarship.
That scholarship isn’t guaranteed for the fall yet, so Woidke knows he must continue working hard this spring in order to prove he deserves to keep it. He’s had the chance to demonstrate his worth all spring, though, as he’s been running with the Buckeyes’ second-team offensive line at left guard.
That’s been an adjustment for Woidke, who has practiced at tackle in previous seasons. At 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Woidke has had to learn how to play lower in order to get under the pads of defensive tackles like Davon Hamilton and Taron Vincent. But he’s done his best to get acclimated as quickly as possible.
“It’s my first time playing guard, so I’m kind of transitioning to that,” Woidke said. “Played a little bit in camp last year, but I’ve mostly played tackle since I’ve been here. So it’s been a little bit of a learning curve, but it’s coming along not too bad.”
Practicing on a second-team offensive line that otherwise consists of three redshirt freshmen (Max Wray, Matthew Jones, Nicholas Petit-Frere) and a true freshman (Ryan Jacoby), Woidke also has tried to step up as a leader – alongside fellow fifth-year seniors Branden Bowen and Joshua Alabi – to help show the younger linemen the ropes.
“I’m trying to,” Woidke said. “There’s leading by example, there’s leading vocally. Myself, Josh, Bowen, Josh Myers, we’re all not used to this, because we had Jamarco (Jones) and Billy (Price), and we just have to step up. And that’s what we’re working on right now in the spring as it’s unfolding is just becoming leaders, becoming vocal leaders, showing Matt Jones, showing Ryan Jacoby, showing Max Wray how we need to do it so that we can be successful like the lines were in ‘14, ‘15, ‘16.”
Along with being a scholarship player now, there is one other big difference for Woidke this year; for the first time since they were freshmen at St. Ignatius, Woidke is no longer teammates with Dre’Mont Jones, who is now pursuing a career in the NFL after his four-year career as a defensive tackle for the Buckeyes.
While Woidke might not be in line to play in the NFL himself, he’s thrilled to see his eight-year teammate in Jones – who was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes and is now widely projected to be an early-round pick in the NFL draft – getting his opportunity to take his game to the next level.
“I couldn’t be happier for a person,” Woidke said. “He’s the most humble guy I know. I couldn’t want anyone else to succeed more.”