Ohio State fifth-year senior right tackle Branden Bowen knows Saturday will be an emotional day for him.
As he runs out of the tunnel for his final game in Ohio Stadium, Bowen will think back on his journey to becoming a Buckeye and his five years in Columbus, which included overcoming a serious leg injury that sidelined him for a year-and-a-half before re-establishing himself as a starter on Ohio State’s offensive line this year.
When Bowen was first asked at Ohio State’s press conference on Tuesday about what he thought the emotions of Saturday would be like, however, the significance of this week’s game being his final home game in the Shoe completely slipped his mind.
“This far into the season, I don’t think I think about it too much,” Bowen responded initially. “Especially in the big games, coming into Wisconsin, about the same thing, but just getting around my guys, I’m just really happy to be there and excited for the opportunity to go against such a great defense and such a great team.”
That response was emblematic of how focused the Buckeyes, including Bowen and the 25 other seniors who will be honored on Saturday, are on preparing for their upcoming opponent.
Saturday’s game against Penn State will be Ohio State’s final home game this season, but it’s also Ohio State’s biggest game of the year to date, as the Buckeyes look to defeat a top-10-ranked opponent, clinch a Big Ten East title and move one step closer to punching their ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Given that, the Buckeyes’ seniors have spent much more time thinking about what they need to do to beat the Nittany Lions than they have thought about Saturday’s game being their final games in Columbus.
“Honestly, it hasn’t even hit me yet. I honestly don’t think it might hit me until after the game, just because right now, it’s all eyes, all focus, all energy on playing Penn State,” said fifth-year defensive tackle Robert Landers. “I think once the game is over with and the clock hits zero-zero, it’ll set in.”
If the Buckeyes can keep winning, they could potentially play in as many as four more games after Saturday – the regular-season finale at Michigan, the Big Ten Championship Game, a College Football Playoff semifinal and the national championship game – so the seniors don’t feel like their careers are ending quite yet.
“I know if we do what we supposed to do, we got a lot of ball left,” said fifth-year senior wide receiver K.J. Hill.
Still, each of the outgoing Buckeyes – not including players who could still return next year and will have decisions to make about their futures after the season – will have a moment to be celebrated in front of more than 100,000 fans before Saturday’s game kicks off, a moment that will lead them to reminisce and reflect on their Ohio State careers.
As Bowen celebrates his moment with his mother Natalie, fiancée Kate and son Booker, he will think about the role being a Buckeye played in bringing them together as a family.
“Ohio State is the reason I have my son and the reason I have my fiancée,” Bowen said. “And then my mother was the whole reason I’m probably here. She was the one who told me like ‘No, you can’t pass up this opportunity.’ So I’m definitely very thankful.”
Hill said Saturday’s Senior Day will be “bittersweet.”
“It came quick,” said Hill, who considered entering the NFL draft after last season before deciding to stay at Ohio State for one more year. “You get here as a freshman, you be like ‘Dang, I can’t picture myself out there running out on my last day in the Shoe.’ But now it’s here.”
Ryan Day will certainly be more focused on trying to lead the Buckeyes to a victory than he will be on the pregame pageantry, and that’s where he wants his players’ focus to be too, but he does want them to enjoy the moment.
“I think it's easy to say, enjoy the experience and say that; I think it's harder to do,” Day said. “But we will talk about that and we talk about that each week: You got to enjoy it, because time waits for nobody, and you have to grab onto this thing and hold on as tight as you can because this is a special opportunity for all of us, and we have to make sure we understand that. And I think our guys do understand that, I think that they have appreciated each other and the moments. But in big games like this, you’re just so focused on what's going on, sometimes it's hard to really appreciate it all until it's all over.
“Certainly for those guys who are having their last game in the stadium like that, it is going to be emotional, and they deserve everything that they get in terms of praise and admiration from everybody in Buckeye Nation for what they have done,” Day added. “It is a special group.”
“I know if we do what we supposed to do, we got a lot of ball left.”– Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill
Saturday’s 26 honorees will include 18 scholarship players and eight walk-ons. The scholarship players include nine members of Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class, five members of the 2016 recruiting class, two transfers (Chris Chugunov and Jonah Jackson) and two former walk-ons (C.J. Saunders and Kevin Woidke).
|AMARI MCMAHON||RB||DUBLIN, OHIO|
|JAKE METZER||P||DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA|
|DERRICK MALONE||TE||DAYTON, OHIO|
|BROCK DAVIN||TE||CINCINNATI, OHIO|
|OWEN FANKHAUSER||S||STOW, OHIO|
|LOGAN HITTLE||LB||NASHPORT, OHIO|
|NOAH DONALD||DL||UNIONTOWN, OHIO|
|BRANDON PAHL||OL||CUTLER, OHIO|
|KEVIN WOIDKE||OL||CLEVELAND, OHIO|
|LIAM MCCULLOUGH||LS||COLUMBUS, OHIO|
|CHRIS CHUGUNOV||QB||SKILLMAN, NEW JERSEY|
|JONAH JACKSON||OG||MEDIA, PENNSYLVANIA|
|RASHOD BERRY||TE/DE||LORAIN, OHIO|
|JOSHUA ALABI||OT||DETROIT, MICHIGAN|
|DAVON HAMILTON||DT||PICKERINGTON, OHIO|
|MALIK HARRISON||LB||COLUMBUS, OHIO|
|JASHON CORNELL||DT||ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA|
|BINJIMEN VICTOR||WR||POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA|
|C.J. SAUNDERS||WR||DUBLIN, OHIO|
|ROBERT LANDERS||DT||DAYTON, OHIO|
|BRANDEN BOWEN||OT||DRAPER, UTAH|
|JONATHON COOPER||DE||GAHANNA, OHIO|
|AUSTIN MACK||WR||FORT WAYNE, INDIANA|
|DAMON ARNETTE||CB||FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA|
|JORDAN FULLER||S||OLD TAPPAN, NEW JERSEY|
|K.J. HILL||WR||LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS|
Justin Hilliard, who was also a member of the 2015 recruiting class but is currently pursuing a sixth year of eligibility after missing multiple seasons at Ohio State due to injuries, is not listed among Saturday’s Senior Day participants, an indicator that the door remains open for Hilliard to return in 2020.