Damon Arnette has been playing with a broken wrist all season.
The fifth-year senior Ohio State cornerback suffered the injury during the first two weeks of preseason camp. As he attempted to punch the ball out of J.K. Dobbins’ hand on a run during practice, his right wrist bent backward.
That wasn’t enough to take him off the field, however.
“I finished that practice though, by the way,” Arnette made sure to say while explaining on Wednesday how he suffered the injury.
At the time, Arnette didn’t realize he had broken his wrist. He didn’t know that until after the third game of the season, when he decided to undergo an X-ray due to lingering pain. During the Buckeyes’ first bye week following their sixth game of the season, Arnette underwent surgery, which has forced him to wear a bigger cast on his wrist than he was before.
Still, with the exception of Ohio State’s 10th game of the season at Rutgers – for which he was available to play but was held out for precautionary reasons due to the lopsided nature of the matchup – none of that has been enough to take Arnette off the field.
In his mind, the broken wrist just isn’t a big deal. It certainly wasn’t going to keep him from playing as hard as he can in his final season as a Buckeye.
“When I found out it was broken, I didn’t even think twice about it,” Arnette said. “I was just like ‘Oh ok.’ Because I was already playing with it.
“It just is what it is right now,” Arnette added. “I’m just trying to keep my head down until we run through the finish line, then I’ll be able to look up and see what I’ve played through and what we’ve accomplished, after we’ve accomplished what we need to accomplish.”
Arnette and the Buckeyes have already accomplished a lot. As a team, they’re 12-0 this season, and individually, Arnette earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his play during the regular season, which has been the best season of his career in spite of his injury. He’s recorded 27 tackles, five pass breakups, a forced fumble and most spectacularly, a 96-yard interception return touchdown against Indiana, all the while providing much more consistent coverage than previous years.
He credits first-year secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley as the biggest reason for that.
“I became a better player technically because of Coach Hafley and the technique that he’s brought to the program,” Arnette said. “When he got here, Coach Hafley, he went through each snap and basically was saying what was good about it, what was bad about it. Naturally, the technique that he was teaching, I kind of naturally was trying to do it last year, because I felt like the other technique wasn’t fitting my style of play. So I was just trying to freestyle some stuff that just worked hand-in-hand with what he taught. So that’s why I feel like I was able to pick up on that technique quickly.”
Arnette has also become more mature both on and off the field while playing with a high level of belief in his ability, which Hafley believes has been a key to his success.
“He plays with great confidence,” Hafley said. “In my opinion, he plays with the confidence you need in a great corner.”
Because of his broken wrist, Arnette has had to play through pain all season. If he lands on his cast or strikes it the wrong way against an opponent, he’ll feel a surge of pain that will sometimes force him to leave the game for a few plays until it subsides.
“I have a screw in my bone, so it’s more like that feeling like, if you have like a molar or something and your tooth is real hurt right here and you drink something cold, that ‘Aah,’ that feeling, that’s that feeling times like five on my wrist,” Arnette said.
Arnette left last weekend’s game at Michigan in the third quarter with an injury he simply said was “something else” unrelated to his wrist, but he expects to be good to go for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. He also expects to be able to switch back to a smaller cast in time for Ohio State’s bowl game, which will be a College Football Playoff semifinal game if the Buckeyes beat the Badgers (and probably even if they don’t).
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has talked all season about the importance of toughness to the Buckeyes’ success, and Arnette – along with others like quarterback Justin Fields, who is currently playing on a sprained MCL in his right knee – has embodied that as much as anyone.
“A guy like Damon, you just appreciate him so much,” Hafley said. “I mean, he’s playing with one hand. And he’s getting off blocks with one hand. He saved a touchdown (against Michigan) on the right sideline where he got off a block with one hand and made the tackle. So you want to talk about toughness? I mean, that’s what this place is all about. Guys like Damon.
“He’s gotta just deal with the pain, and he has. And there’s some people that we’ve all been around that would not have played. So I just again, I appreciate him.”
To Arnette, the physical pain he sometimes has to endure is worth it to help the Buckeyes chase a national championship.
“This team, a lot of guys really are playing for each other. And like a lot of the younger guys, I know they’re playing for guys like me,” Arnette said. “And since I know that they’re playing for me, I’m playing for them. So little injuries like this is not going to stop us.
“We do have to go out there and be tough. Maybe for some people, they have to really think about it. But for me, I just go out there and grind. I know I’m tough, and I know the guys I’m going to war with are tough too, so we really, we just take the message and run with it.”